Palliative Medicine is a medical speciality focused on providing care and support to individuals with serious illnesses, with the goal of improving quality of life and managing symptoms. Palliative care is available for patients who have a serious or life-threatening illness. The goal of palliative care is to prevent and treat the symptoms and side effects of the illness and its treatment and to improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

It is given at any stage of a serious or life-threatening illness, beginning at diagnosis. It can be given alongside treatments to cure illness and will continue until end of life.

The physical and emotional effects of a serious illness and its treatment will vary from person to person resulting in different palliative care needs. Palliative care takes a personalized approach to these issues, assessing and treating the individual patient’s symptoms. These might include:

  • Physical symptoms, such as pain, shortness of breath, nausea and loss of appetite
  • Psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression

In addition to assessing and treating symptoms, palliative care will provide:

  • Emotional and spiritual support for patients and their families
  • Coordination of patients’ care with all healthcare providers
  • Open discussion about future treatment options
  • Support to enable patients and families to be central to any decisions made about care

It is never too early in the course of a serious or life-threatening illness to have palliative care. It can be given alongside any other treatments. Patients who receive palliative care have their physical and emotional symptoms addressed, are able to communicate more effectively with their healthcare providers and receive care that is consistent with their wishes.

Palliative care can help patients and families prepare for physical changes that occur near to the end of life and will advise about appropriate treatment for symptoms at this stage. Palliative care can help patients to cope with particular thoughts, decisions and emotional issues that arise near to the end of life and can support families emotionally into bereavement.

Your health care provider might suggest a referral to the palliative care specialist or you can ask for this referral to be made.