Palliative care is defined by the World Health Organisation as: an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual. Palliative care:
- provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms;
- affirms life and regards dying as a normal process;
- intends neither to hasten or postpone death;
- integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care;
- offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death;
- offers a support system to help the family cope during the patients illness and in their own bereavement;
- uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling, if indicated;
- will enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness;
- is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and
- includes those investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications.
Palliative Care offers, through a mixture of specialist and primary care providers, as well as community partnerships, a support system to help people live as actively and well as possible and whilst hope is always maintained, often there is a refocusing of hope to prepare for dying also. Dying is an integral and inevitable part of life, and quality palliative care helps to enable people to die with dignity and in a setting of their choosing.
People’s needs vary widely as death approaches, but commonly include the need to understand what is happening, resolve issues with family and friends, achieve a sense of completion emotionally and spiritually, and come to terms with significant life changes. Palliative care provides support by relieving pain and other symptoms, addressing practical and financial problems, and providing appropriate psychological, social and spiritual support.
The Palliative Care team includes medical, nursing, allied health and social services working together to integrate the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of care. It recognises the patient and family as the unit of care, and respects the right of each patient to make informed choices about the care they receive. Palliative care plays an important role in helping the family cope during the patient’s illness and in their own bereavement.