What is palliative care?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines palliative care 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”. 

The Victorian Governments end of life and palliative care framework defines End of Life care as:
“the care needed for people who are likely to die in the next 12 months due to progressive, advanced or incurable illness, frailty or old age. This period is important to recognise because people may experience rapid changes and fluctuations in their condition and often have multiple contacts with a range of health services.

Understanding that a person is entering the last months or year of life can be difficult to determine. Nevertheless, being able to recognise that a person may be dying is an essential requirement for clinicians. A focus on the 12 months before death allows for optimal planning of care. It allows time to engage in purposeful conversations with people and their families to discuss their preferences and what matters to them. It focuses on approaches to meet people’s needs in the last year, months, weeks and days of life.’

There are a few different definitions of palliative care that are used both within Australia and internationally. For example, ‘hospice’, ‘end-of-life care’ and ‘specialist palliative care’ have all been used interchangeably with ‘palliative care’. Hence, definitions may vary within the sector.

Supporting palliative care

The role of the PHN is to help empower GPs and other primary care providers through education, linkages and engagement to be able to provide best palliative care. We support primary care providers by:

  • improving linkages between primary health care professionals (GPs, practices nurses, Residential Aged Care staff) and both community and inpatient services palliative care services, in the region;
  • co-ordinating access to resources for primary health care providers regarding palliative care services in the region; and
  •  co-ordinating access to quality palliative care education for health care professionals within our region.

Recent studies have shown that GPs have identified they lacked confidence in providing palliative care in general practice, for various reasons, including patient complexity, inadequate training and insufficient resources (Le et al AFP vol. 46 No 1-2 Jan-Feb 2017).

GPs have identified poor communication and linkages with specialist palliative care services as another barrier to providing quality palliative care to patients.

Studies have also found that 60-70% of Australian’s wish to die at home, and GPs - and other primary care providers - are in integral part of supporting this wish. Primary care providers require the skills, linkages and, importantly, the confidence to be able to provide this care in the community.

Policy overview

The National Palliative Care Strategy

The National Palliative Care Strategy 2010 – Supporting Australians to Live Well at the End of Life (the Strategy) represents the combined commitments of the Australian, state and territory governments, palliative care service providers and community based organisations to the development and implementation of palliative care policies, strategies and services that are consistent across Australia.

Victoria’s end of life and palliative care framework

All Victorians deserve the best possible end of life and palliative care, which relieves pain and suffering and provides empowering support to people and their family, friends and carers.

The end of life and palliative care framework has a strong focus on person-centred care, valuing and respecting people’s preferences and values for end of life care.

The framework enables diverse communities and groups to have improved information and access to engage more fully with end of life services.

It is everyone’s responsibility in the healthcare, human service, social and community sectors to provide high-quality end of life care for their clients.