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Palliative care supports people living with a terminal illness where a cure is no longer possible. Palliative care is a "whole person approach” that aims to support patients and their families to improve quality of life.

You might receive palliative care alongside particular treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Palliative care is also provided in the earlier stages of illness, alongside other therapies that are aimed at prolonging life. It neither hastens nor postpones death but supports life and regards dying as a normal process.

Palliative care aims to improve quality of life by:

  • providing relief from pain and other physical symptoms
  • combining psychological and spiritual aspects of care
  • using a team approach to address the needs of the person who is ill and their whānau
  • offering a support system to help people live as actively as possible until death
  • offering a support system to help the whānau cope during a person’s illness and in bereavement.

How do I access palliative care services?

Contact your GP or practice nurse

You will need to have a lead palliative carer. This should be someone you identify, who you already know and is able to coordinate your palliative care. This is usually your GP or a nurse from the practice. If you live in a residential facility, this may be a nurse from the team.

Your lead palliative carer will have regular conversations with you and if you choose, your whānau, and will:

  • provide information for you and your whānau about your condition and what you can expect
  • help you access other supports and services
  • do an accurate and all-round assessment of your needs
  • coordinate care teams in and out of hours
  • provide basic levels of symptom control
  • give you psychological, social, spiritual and practical support
  • communicatie with you, your whānau and the professionals supporting you.

Palliative care can be provided in different places including in your home, in hospital, at a care home or a hospice.

It can be provided by GPs, specialists, social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, counsellors, dieticians, district nurses and chaplains…hospice is just one part of palliative care.

Your primary care team will also have access to specialist advice from experts in palliative care, such as consultants in palliative medicine or clinical nurse specialists.

It may be that as your needs change or become more complex, you may require additional support from these specialist services. These may be provided to you from a hospice or a hospital as inpatient or outpatient facilities.

More information about palliative care and palliative care services is available on the Health Navigator website.

Palliative care strategy

Living Well, Dying Well: A Strategy for a Palliative Care Approach was launched in November 2016. This strategic plan sets the direction of palliative care for the next 4 years. It details a comprehensive integrated model of palliative care to achieve the vision that all people who require a palliative approach live well and die well irrespective of their condition or care setting.

Download a copy of the full strategy or read the summary here.


Common myths about palliative care

Palliative care is often misunderstood and some people believe things about it that aren’t true.

MYTH: Palliative care is only for people dying of cancer

Palliative care is for people who are living with a life limiting illness and their whānau.

MYTH: If I need palliative care it means I’ll have to go to a hospice

You can receive palliative care in a range of settings including in your home, in hospital, in a care home or a hospice.

MYTH: If I have palliative care it means my doctors have given up and I’ll no longer receive active treatment for my illness.

You can receive palliative care alongside active treatments for your illness, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

MYTH: If I have palliative care I’ll no longer be seen by other specialists who know about my particular illness.

You can receive palliative care support alongside care from the specialists who have been treating your particular illness.

MYTH: Palliative care is just about treating pain and other physical symptoms

Palliative care aims to provide a holistic approach to give you the best quality of life possible. This means caring for all your physical, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual and other needs.

MYTH: Only people who are ill can benefit from palliative care

Palliative care teams are very aware that caring for someone with an advanced illness can have a big impact on surrounding whānau. Palliative care teams do what they can to help people cope.

Last updated 26 June 2020.