Palliative care is active holistic care for people with any advanced progressive life-threatening illness. This may include heart failure, progressive respiratory conditions (e.g. COPD or pulmonary fibrosis), renal failure, progressive neurodegenerative conditions or cancer.

Palliative care aims to improve quality of life by addressing symptoms and other causes of distress – whether physical, emotional, psychosocial or spiritual. Research shows that early referral to palliative care can also improve prognosis (Temel et al, New England Journal of Medicine 2010).

Much palliative and end of life care is provided by GPs, district nurses and hospital teams. When the individual’s needs can’t be met by their primary care team, a referral to the palliative care service is recommended.

It can be difficult to know when and how to talk about referral to palliative care. Some doctors are worried about destroying hope or hastening death. But you can be reassuring – palliative care:

  • provides the best possible care and support for someone whose condition can’t be cured
  • focuses on the person and their family, rather than the disease
  • improves prognosis
  • improves quality of life
  • is free of charge