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Understanding Palliative Care: Benefits and Importance During National Palliative Care Week

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is patient-centred care that helps people live their life as fully and comfortably as possible when living with a life-limiting or terminal illness. Patients who enter palliative care often have an active, advanced disease, who have little or no prospect of cure or are expected to die. The primary goal in palliative care is to optimise the quality of life towards the end of life.

Often palliative care is compared to hospice care, but they are quite different Hospice care is comfort care without a possibility or no cure in sight. The patient unfortunately has no curative options or has decided not to pursue treatment because the side effects outweigh the benefits. Palliative care focuses on compassionate comfort care that provides relief from symptoms and physical or mental stress of a serious or life-limiting illness. Palliative care can be pursued at diagnosis, during curative treatment, or at the end of life. This type of care and treatment can be done in a hospital or at home.

Benefits of palliative care

There are many benefits to palliative care for patients. What most people are unaware of is that palliative care can be started at any time while the patient has a serious illness. It can be provided from the very start of a life-limiting or terminal illness. Starting early is the best way to ensure patients have a good quality of life for as long as possible.

There are studies[1] that show patients who receive palliative care from the early stages of their diagnosis, are more likely to have better outcomes including feeling better overall, fewer symptoms, improved mood and a higher chance a better quality of life. The patients have a chance to be assisted with proper pain management[2] which can aid their day-to-day lives.

Furthermore, palliative care also provides support for family members and caregivers. Staff can provide guidance and emotional support for family members caring for a loved one who may have a serious illness.

The Importance of Palliative Care Week

National Palliative Care Week is an annual national awareness week which encourages all Australians to reflect on life and death. It’s an opportunity to shine a light on educating the community on understanding what palliative care is and the many benefits it has on patients who need access to it. This years theme is “Matters of Life and Death” to start and open more conversations around palliative care. The awareness week will be focusing on breaking down the stigma surrounding palliative care and sharing experiences with the community to help grow awareness of the important week.  

Palliative Care at Prince of Wales Hospital

The Palliative Care Unit at Prince of Wales consists of specialists, registrars, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, dieticians, physiotherapists, psychologists and volunteers who all provide advice, support and care in treating patients in the palliative care unit at Prince of Wales Hospital. The Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre, POWH, and St Vincent’s Hospital have collaborated to deliver patient-centred palliative care across the Randwick district. The team are located in the Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the Bright Building.

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[1] Davis MP, Temel JS, Balboni T, Glare P. A review of the trials which examine early integration of outpatient and home palliative care for patients with serious illnesses. Ann Palliat Med. 2015 Jul;4(3):99-121. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2224-5820.2015.04.04. PMID: 26231807.