Understanding a Palliative Approach to Care

At some point you may need to care for a patient, client, or people in your community who are unwell and not going to get better. Palliative care can improve quality of life for individuals and their families who have a life limiting illness. It helps to prevent and relieve suffering by identifying, assessing and treating symptoms and concerns such as pain or distress. Palliative care is not just about caring for physical needs - it's also about caring for a patient's social, emotional, cultural and spiritual needs. Palliative care is not just about the last days of life. It can be helpful for people who have one or more advanced life-limiting illnesses or when the treatment goals are focused on comfort rather than on cure.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care workforce play a vital role as a connection between palliative care services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities. They will work with other health professionals providing palliative care such as GPs, community nurses and palliative care services. They also have a direct care role through home visits and liaison.

Palliative Care Principles

There are some important principles that underpin palliative care:

  • Care is where the person wants it
    • Palliative care can be provided in a person’s home, aged care facility, other areas of the general community, in a hospital or specialist palliative care unit. Care is provided where the person wants it.
  • Person Centred Care
    • Palliative care looks at the whole person and their individual needs. Care may include support from different health professionals as part of a team who meet the needs of the individual.
  • Making a plan for what to do as things change
    • Advance care planning can help clarify what is important to a person and help make sure that everybody is aware of the person’s wishes.
  • Identifying and treating symptoms
    • Regularly monitoring of symptoms and checking if there are new concerns can help to ensure that the person has the best quality for life possible.
  • Communicating with the patient, family and other team members’
    • Good communication between the patient, family and health care providers is essential. This helps ensure that everyone understands what is happening, what needs to be done and who is responsible.  
  • End of Life Care
    • Discuss with the person and their family where they wish to be when their life ends and the kin they would like to have with them. It may take time to make appropriate arrangements. There is also a chance to discuss any medication needs for the dying phase.
  • Self-care
    • People who provide palliative care need to take care of themselves. Different people use different strategies such as de-briefing, yarning with a colleague, going walking or spending time with their family. Staff mentoring and coaching plays an important part in caring for the health workforce as they go on the end-of-life journey with their patients.

Useful Palliative Care Resources

  • The evidence-based CareSearch website has palliative care information and resources for health professionals and health consumers
    • Watch a video of Ros Lockhart talking about providing palliative care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and how CareSearch can help
    • CareSearch Education Section, with Whole of Workforce framework and listings of short courses, workshops, and web-based learning
  • Palliative Care Australia (PCA) has a range of brochures covering advance care planning, facts about morphine, the dying process and pain management
  • PCA has a National Service Directory to help you find palliative care services across Australia
  • The Palliative Approach Toolkit has a range of factsheets dealing with common symptoms and issues. The have been written for care workers working in aged care facilities but have useful content
  • Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet website has a section on Palliative Care

Resources for your patients and their family

The Patients, Families and Community Journeys section of this Hub has a range of resources that you can print for your patients and their families on many different topics. You can also suggest that patients and their family and community members visit the section of the Hub themselves.
 

Next: Person-Centred Care

Last updated 15 March 2017