Meeting the needs of families during palliative care 

Care centred on the patient and family as a unit is core to the philosophy of palliative care. Nurses will often spend much of their time not only in patient care but also in working with families.

Family has been described by Palliative Care Australia as 'people identified by the person as family and may include people who are biologically related and people who joined the family through marriage or other relationships, as well as the family of choice and friends (including pets)'. Carers may include family members and other members of their community (such as close friends and neighbours) who the person agrees to being involved in their care.' Palliative Care Service Development Guidelines (2018).

The goals of supporting family have been described as: meeting their needs; minimising their distress; improving their well-being and ultimate outcomes; and empowering them to provide care.

Nurses working with patients with palliative care needs can spend much of their time not only on patient care but in also getting to know and be known by family members. The role of the nurse can include provision of emotional and spiritual support, ongoing education about care and management, support during decision making on end-of-life issues, as well as support after death. It can also include working with colleagues to manage family differences of opinion and conflict.

It is not always well recognised or acknowledged within management structures, that supporting families can often be complex and time consuming. Family meetings (case conferences) are one way of providing a formalised structure by which to facilitate communication and decision making.

Last updated 20 August 2021