The palliative care team

Saturday 1 April, 2017

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On this page: General practitioner (GP) or family doctor | Nurse | Palliative care specialist or physician | Cancer specialist | Counsellor or psychologist | Spiritual care practitioner | Social worker | Occupational therapist or physiotherapist | Pharmacist | Dietitian | Volunteer


Your palliative care team will be made up of medical, nursing and allied health professionals who offer a range of services to assist you, your family and carers throughout your illness. Volunteers can also offer practical and emotional support, and may form an important part of your team.

Depending on your needs, your palliative care may be coordinated by your GP or a community nurse, or you may be referred to a specialist palliative care service, where the doctors, nurses and allied health professionals are specifically trained to look after people with complex health care issues.

You will have regular appointments or visits with the health professionals in your team so they can monitor your progress and adjust your care. The most common team members are listed in this section. You won't necessarily see all these people – some roles overlap and assistance varies across Australia. Your GP, nurse or palliative care specialist can help you work out which services will benefit you most.

If you have cultural or religious beliefs about death and bereavement, or certain family customs, talk to your palliative care team so they can incorporate these into your palliative care plan where possible.

"I enjoy helping people out, whether it's stringing up Christmas lights or helping record someone's life story. It's incredibly rewarding and a pleasure to help." – Cheryl
Members of the palliative care team

General practitioner (GP) or family doctor

  • continues to see you for day-to-day health care issues if you are being cared for at home (and may make home visits)
  • liaises with your nurse and/or palliative care specialist about the coordination of your ongoing care
  • refers you to a palliative care specialist
  • can organise your admission to hospital or a palliative care unit (hospice) if your circumstances change
  • offers support to you, your family and carers
  • can provide referrals for counselling, including bereavement counselling if necessary

Nurse

  • may be a community nurse, a specialist palliative care nurse or a palliative care nurse practitioner
  • may work for a hospital, community nursing service, residential aged care facility or specialist palliative care service
  • if you are being cared for at home, will visit you in your home and may provide after hours telephone support
  • coordinates other health professionals and works out what care you need, including home nursing or personal care assistance
  • makes sure you have access to medicines and other treatments for pain and symptom relief, and talks to you about how to take your medicines
  • can suggest practical strategies to help you manage your condition (e.g. how to manage fatigue or loss of appetite)

Palliative care specialist or physician

  • prescribes or recommends treatment for pain, nausea, constipation, anxiety, depression, shortness of breath or any other symptoms you may have
  • usually provides care in a palliative care unit (hospice) or hospital (both for inpatients or people attending an outpatient clinic), but may also be able to visit you in your home or residential aged care facility
  • communicates with and advises the cancer specialist and your GP so your treatment is well coordinated
  • may refer you and your family to a grief counsellor, psychologist or other support person
  • assists with decision-making about care and treatment choices

Cancer specialist

  • may be a medical oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist or haematologist
  • diagnoses the advanced cancer and may refer you to a specialist palliative care team
  • continues to oversee treatment aimed at managing symptoms of the cancer (such as surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or radiotherapy)
  • may manage some aspects of palliative care

Counsellor or psychologist

  • trained in listening and counselling
  • allows you to talk about any fears, worries or conflicting emotions you may be feeling
  • helps you identify and talk about feelings of loss or grief
  • assists you and your family to communicate and to explore relationship or emotional issues
  • might suggest strategies, techniques and ways of lessening the distress, anxiety or sadness you and others are feeling
  • helps you to explore the issues you are facing so you can find more pleasure in your life
  • may show you meditation or relaxation exercises to help ease physical and emotional pain
  • provides bereavement care and support to your family and carers

Spiritual care practitioner

  • may also be known as a spiritual adviser or pastoral carer
  • supports you and your family in talking about spiritual matters
  • reflects with you about your life and helps you search for its meaning, if appropriate
  • helps you to feel hopeful and develop ways to enjoy your life despite the illness
  • may organise special prayer services and religious rituals for you, if appropriate
  • connects you with other members of your faith
  • may discuss emotional issues, as many are trained counsellors

Social worker

  • assesses what sort of support you, your family and carers need, and identifies ways you can receive this support
  • may provide counselling and emotional support to you, your family and carers, including working through feelings of loss and grief
  • assists with communication within the family (including any relationship issues) and with other health care professionals, including any changes to your care goals
  • discusses ways of coping and how to emotionally support your children, grandchildren or other dependents
  • can help you work out ways to record your memories
  • provides information and referrals for legal matters, financial support, home respite care, meal services, parking schemes, personal alarms, laundry services and aged care services
  • may help people with limited support from family or friends to arrange temporary or permanent care for dependents or pets

Occupational therapist or physiotherapist

  • helps you manage the physical aspects of your daily activities, such as walking, bathing, and getting into and out of bed and chairs safely
  • advises you on physical aids to improve your mobility, such as a walking frame or a device to help you put on your socks
  • organises equipment hire or modifications to your house for a safer, more accessible environment
  • teaches carers and family the best ways to move you or help you sit and stand
  • assists with pain relief techniques, such as positioning your body in a better way, using hot and cold packs, and stimulating certain nerves in your body
  • shows you how to exercise to reduce pain and stiffness and increase mobility and energy
  • uses physical therapy to help clear congestion from your lungs
  • may work with a massage therapist to relieve stiff and sore muscles or swelling, or a podiatrist to treat any foot conditions

Pharmacist

  • gives you access to prescription and overthe-counter medicines to take at home
  • can organise your tablets and capsules into a blister pack (e.g. Webster-pak) that sets out all the doses that need to be taken throughout the week
  • provides information about how to safely take medicines and possible side effects or interactions with other drugs
  • communicates with the prescribing doctor if necessary
  • helps you with symptom management so you can achieve the best possible quality of life
  • assists you or your carer with keeping track of medicines, including the costs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)

Dietitian

  • works out the best eating plan for you and your family
  • helps you choose appropriate food and nutritional supplements
  • tries to resolve any digestive issues, such as poor appetite, nausea or constipation
  • may work with a speech pathologist, who can assess and help you deal with eating and swallowing problems

Volunteer

  • offers friendship, support and companionship
  • provides practical assistance, e.g. taking you shopping or to appointments, giving your carer a break, minding children, or doing basic jobs around the house
  • can be most helpful if you give them specific tasks so that they don't have to guess what you need
  • may be accessed through a palliative care service – these volunteers are screened, trained, supervised and mentored
  • can also be found through your state or territory palliative care organisation
  • can be a friend, neighbour or family member – although you may feel embarrassed about asking for help, you will probably find that many people want to do something for you

Reviewed by: Dr Jan Maree Davis, Area Director, Palliative Care Services, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District Southern Sector, and Conjoint Lecturer, University of New South Wales, NSW; Gabrielle Asprey, Facilitator, Telephone and Internet Support Groups, Cancer Council NSW; Julie Butterfield, Consumer; Dr Kathryn Dwan, Senior Policy Officer, Palliative Care Australia; Philippa Kirkpatrick, National Policy Manager, Palliative Care Australia; Amanda Maple, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Eileen McNally, Palliative Care Psychosocial Lead, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Patricia Pannell, Clinical Nurse, Central Adelaide Palliative Care Service, SA.

Updated: 01 Apr, 2017