Palliative care aims to help people with life-threatening conditions live as comfortably as possible and improve their quality of life in the time they have left.
Palliative care deals with the ‘whole’ person, known as a holistic approach. It involves managing physical and emotional pain and other distressing symptoms as well as giving social, psychological and spiritual support.
Depending on the type of care you need, it can be provided in a care home or nursing home, in your own home, in hospital and in a hospice.
Who is palliative care for?
Palliative care covers the treatment, care and support given to patients with a life-limiting illness and their family and friends. It aims to as far as possible prevent and relieve the suffering that can develop from a serious condition.
A life-limiting illness is incurable and is an illness you are likely to die from, such as dementia. An illness of this type can sometimes be called life-threatening or terminal.
Although it is included in End of Life care, you can start receiving palliative care treatments at an earlier stage together with other therapies to manage your illness.
For example, a person who is getting chemotherapy to stop cancerous cells from reproducing can receive palliative care alongside it for additional support.
When do you get palliative care and how long does it last?
A person can receive palliative care for a few days, months or even years.
Palliative care does not mean death. Just because you start to receive it, it does not mean that you are likely to die soon.
You can start receiving palliative care at any stage of your life-limiting illness and it can last until the final moments of life as part of End of Life care.
What does palliative care involve?
The goal of palliative care is much more than only treating the symptoms of a patient’s condition, such as physical pain or eating problems.
In addition to managing the physical aspect of an illness, the emotional and spiritual needs of the patient are also supported. This is why involving family and close friends is an important part of palliative care.
The care and support are tailored to your needs and wishes to help you live as well as possible and the way you want to.
The principles of palliative care are:
Providing relief and managing pain and other distressing symptoms.
Supporting the patient to live as actively as possible until death.
Supporting the family to help them cope during the patient’s illness and in bereavement.
Providing psychological, emotional and spiritual support to the patient.
Helping the patient achieve their goals and come to terms with the illness.
Ensuring the patient is clean and as comfortable as possible in their final moments.
More specifically, the care and support provided can include:
Controlling pain through medication or therapy
Personal care such as help with washing and dressing
Support to help the patient cope with fatigue and sleep better
Help with eating problems
Providing equipment, such as a wheelchair to enable the patient to achieve their goals
Support with coping with the emotional effects that can arise after diagnosis
Giving family members advice and support
Who provides palliative care?
Because palliative care is highly individual, the doctors, nurses and other health and social care professionals involved can vary.
Who provides it depends on where you get it, in what stage of your illness you are and what type of care you need.
The professionals who may be regularly involved in your care are:
Chaplains or other spiritual care professionals
You may need specialist palliative care, which could be provided by:
Specialist palliative care nurses and doctors
A palliative care team made up of different professionals will be created to coordinate the care provided to the patient to ensure their needs and wishes are met.
The team will also do what they can to support family and friends as a terminal illness can have a serious emotional impact.
Where is palliative care provided?
You can receive palliative care in a variety of settings, including in at home, in a residential home, in a nursing home, hospital or in a hospice.
If you wish to be cared for in a setting of your choice, your care team will organise this to fulfil your wishes.
Many care home offer palliative care. You can speak to your palliative care team who can advise you what care homes are available in the area.
Palliative are can also be received at home, which means that you do not necessarily have to move away.
Being cared for in a hospital is another option and many have specialist teams working together with doctors and nurses to provide palliative care.
Hospices are generally for people who are nearing death but can accommodate patients for short terms during their illness.
How do you get palliative care?
The first step is to speak to your GP or other health care professionals. They will be able to advise you on the next steps as well as what care and support are available.
If you suffer from a life-limiting condition and have ongoing physical and/or mental health needs, you may be eligible for NHS continuing healthcare funding which means your care will be free.
Speak to your GP or social care worker who can organise an assessment.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is the treatment, care and support given to people with life-limiting conditions and their families to manage both their physical and emotional symptoms as well as giving social, psychological and spiritual support. It aims to help people live as comfortably as possible during the time they have left.