Australia's Biggest Morning Tea

Every dollar raised makes an incredible difference

Register Now

Palliative care

The palliative care team

Page last updated: January 2024

The information on this webpage has been adapted from Understanding Palliative Care - A guide for people with cancer, their families and friends (2023 edition). This webpage was last updated in January 2024.

Expert content reviewers:

This information was developed with help from Palliative Care Australia and is based on the National Palliative Care Strategy 2018. We thank the reviewers of this booklet:

  • Prof Meera Agar, Palliative Care Physician, Professor of Palliative Medicine, University of Technology Sydney, IMPACCT, Sydney, NSW
  • Anne Booms, Nurse Practitioner, Palliative Care, Icon Cancer Centre Midlands, WA
  • Nicola Champion, Consumer
  • John Clements, Consumer
  • Dr Alexandra Clinch, Palliative Medicine Specialist and Deputy Director, Palliative Care, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC
  • A/Prof Jaklin Eliott, School of Public Health, University of Adelaide, SA
  • Dr Jemma Gilchrist, Clinical Psychologist, Mind My Health, NSW
  • McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC
  • Caitlin MacDonagh, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Palliative Care, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW
  • Dr Roya Merie, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Concord, NSW
  • Dr Deidre Morgan, Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death and Dying, Flinders University, SA
  • Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA

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.

This team may include spiritual or pastoral carers and volunteers. Your cancer care team will continue to be involved and will work with the palliative care providers at all stages of the illness.

You will have regular appointments with some of the health professionals in your team so they can monitor your progress and adjust your care.

If you have cultural or religious beliefs and practices about dying, death and bereavement, or family customs, let your palliative care team know so that they can provide you with care that respects this.

Palliative Care Australia

Palliative Care Australia has resources on what questions to ask your palliative care team, facts about medicines used in palliative care, pain and pain management, and advance care planning.

Learn more

Possible members of the palliative care team

General practitioner (GP) or family doctor

  • coordinates palliative care for many people
  • continues to see you for day-to-day health care issues if you are being cared for at home (and may be able to make home visits)
  • talks with your nurse and/or palliative care specialist to coordinate ongoing care and refer you to a palliative care specialist if you have complex needs
  • organises your admission to hospital or a palliative care unit (hospice) if your circumstances change
  • offers support to you, your family and carers, and gives referrals for counselling and other services.

Nurse or nurse practitioner

  • may be a nurse, community nurse or a specialist palliative care nurse at a hospital, community nursing service, residential aged care facility or specialist palliative care service
  • helps you manage pain and other symptoms with medicines, treatments and practical strategies
  • visits you if you are being cared for at home and provides after-hours telephone support
  • coordinates other health professionals in the team and works out what care you need (e.g. home nursing or personal care)
  • refers you toa specialist palliative care unit (hospice).

Palliative care specialist, physician or nurse practitioner

  • oversees treatment for symptoms such as pain, nausea, constipation, anxiety, depression and breathlessness
  • usually provides care in a palliative care unit (hospice) or hospital (both for inpatients and outpatient clinics), but may be part of a community specialist palliative care service
  • 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, and assist with decisions about care or treatment, including advance care directives.

Cancer specialist

Counsellor, psychologist or clinical physchologist

  • trained in listening and offering guidance to help you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
  • allows you to talk about any fears, worries or conflicting emotions and about feelings of loss or grief
  • helps you and your family to talk about relationships or emotions
  • may suggest strategies for lessening the distress, anxiety or sadness you and others are feeling or teach meditation or relaxation exercises to help ease physical and emotional pain
  • gives grief care and support to your family and carers.

Occupational therapist 

  • helps you manage the physical aspects of daily activities, such as walking, bathing, and getting in and out of bed and chairs. Shows carers the best way to move you or help you sit and stand
  • suggests physical aids to help you move around and maintain independence, and organises equipment hire or home modifications to make it safer and more accessible (e.g. handrails, shower chair)
  • helps you prioritise activities to conserve energy for important tasks
  • helps manage issues with memory, planning and problem solving.

Social worker

  • works out what support you, your family and carers need, and identifies ways you can receive this support
  • may refer you to legal services, aged and disability services, and housing support or help with completing advance care directives
  • helps communicate with family or health professionals (including about care goals) and supporting children or dependants
  • discusses ways of coping and emotionally supporting your children, grandchildren or other dependants
  • may provide counselling or suggest other ways of coping.


  • helps with issues such as loss of appetite or weight loss
  • suggests changes to diet and suitable foods to eat
  • may provide nutritional supplements or protein drinks
  • tries to resolve digestive issues, nausea or constipation
  • may work with a speech pathologist for problems swallowing.

Speech pathologist

  • helps you eat and drink as safely as possible if you have problems chewing food or with swallowing
  • gives advice on consistency of food and helps with good mouth care (e.g. dry mouth, too much saliva)
  • helps with communication, such as voice problems and speaking or understanding language
  • recommends communication devices and talking boards for patients who have trouble speaking
  • may help with memory, planning and problem solving.


  • suggests physical aids to help you move safely and maintain independence, such as a walking frame or walking stick
  • helps you improve or maintain your balance when moving
  • offers pain relief techniques, such as positioning your body, stimulating nerves in your body and using hot or cold packs
  • shows how to safely exercise to reduce pain and stiffness
  • can help clear congestion from your lungs, and teach you breathing exercises to better manage breathlessness
  • may work with a massage therapist to relieve stiff and sore muscles or swelling, or a podiatrist for foot-related issues.


  • dispenses medicine, gives advice about medicines, doses and possible side effects or interactions with other drugs
  • can organise a medicine pack (e.g. Webster-pak) that sets out all the doses that need to be taken throughout the week. Communicates with the prescribing doctor if needed
  • can help you keep track of medicines, including costs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Spiritual or pastoral care practitioner

  • may be called a spiritual adviser, pastoral carer, priest, deacon, rabbi, mufti or reverend
  • supports you and your family to talk about spiritual matters. Helps you reflect on your life and, if you want, on your search for meaning
  • may help you to feel hopeful and develop ways to enjoy your life despite the cancer
  • can organise prayer services and religious rituals for you and connect you with other members of your faith
  • may discuss emotional issues (many are also counsellors).

Cultural adviser or patient care navigator

  • cultural advisers, such as Aboriginal Liaison Officers, help to make sure you feel supported, safe and respected while using health services and help the people looking after you to provide care that is respectful to culture
  • patient care navigators work with you, your family and community to help you navigate the health system and avoid any barriers to receiving timely care
  • residential aged care facility outreach support services can help residents or people having high level support in the home to get care.


  • offers friendship, support and companionship - their role will vary, depending on the organisation they volunteer with
  • may provide practical assistance, such as taking you shopping or to appointments, giving your carer a break, minding children, or doing basic jobs around the house
  • may be found through a palliative care service (volunteers are screened, trained and supervised) or through a state or territory palliative care organisation
  • may be a friend, family member or neighbour. You may not like asking for help, but people usually want to help you.


Question checklist

Asking your doctor questions will help you make an informed choice. You may want to include some of the questions below in your own list. 

Palliative Care Australia also has recommended questions to ask your treating team.

Palliative care
  • Who can refer me to palliative care?
  • Who will be a part of my palliative care team?
  • Who will coordinate my care?
  • Where will I receive palliative care?
  • If I’m at home, what kind of help will be available?
  • Can I contact the palliative care team at any time? Who do I call after hours?
  • Will the palliative care team talk to my GP and cancer specialists about my care?
  • How long will I need palliative care for? What is my prognosis?
  • How can I get a second opinion about my need for palliative care?
  • Do I need to see a specialist palliative care service?
  • What if my condition unexpectedly improves?
Other treatment
  • Are there other treatments available that might cure the cancer?
  • If the cancer cannot be cured, what is the aim of the treatments?
  • Will I receive active treatment for the cancer if I have palliative care?
  • Are there any clinical trials I could join?
  • If I don’t have further treatment, what should I expect?
  • Are there any complementary therapies that might help?
Support services
  • Can my family or carers get respite care or other assistance?
  • Do I have to pay for any palliative care services?
  • What financial and practical assistance is available?
  • Can you help me talk to my family about what is happening?


Understanding Palliative Care

Download our Understanding Palliative Care booklet to learn more

Download now  Order for free

Talking bubbles icon

Questions about cancer?

Call or email our experienced cancer nurses for information and support.

Contact a cancer nurse