What is palliative care?
Palliative care helps people with a progressive, life-limiting illness to live as comfortably as possible. The main goal is to help you maintain your quality of life by addressing your physical, emotional, cultural, social and spiritual needs.
When most people hear the term palliative care, they fear that it means their treatment team has given up hope or they are going to die soon. This is certainly not the case for everyone referred to palliative care. This fear is one reason that some people don’t access palliative care services early – or at all.
Palliative care may be beneficial for people at any stage of advanced cancer – not just at the end of life.
Palliative care can be given alongside other cancer treatments and can help manage symptoms and reduce side effects. Palliative care also supports families and carers.
Questions to ask about this service
When looking at a service it is important to ask questions about how the service works before you decide to engage with them. Below is a list of questions you might like to ask when enquiring about a service.
Am I eligible?
Some services have specific criteria that a person must meet before they are able to use a service, for example location, means testing or a specific cancer type. It is important to know if you are eligible to access a service right from the start.
Do I need a referral?
Some services require a referral from your specialist, GP or a social worker. This helps to make sure that the right patients are being connected with the right services. It’s a good idea to ask if a referral is needed and if so, exactly what type of referral the service requires.
How much will this cost me?
Some services are free, and some come at a cost. At a time when people should be focused on their treatment and recovery, the cost of cancer can be a source of stress and worry for many. It’s a good idea to ask about the fees attached to a service and if there are any subsidies or benefits you might be eligible for before committing to the service. It’s important to know that you are within your rights to ask about the cost of a service or treatment before agreeing to take part. For more information you can visit cancer and your finances.
Is there a wait time?
Sometimes demand for a service is high which can cause wait times. You might find it helpful to ask if there are any wait times for the services you are looking at, especially if you require support as soon as possible.
What services do you offer?
Some organisations provide a range of services for people affected by cancer, their family, friends and carers. It is a good idea to ask about exactly what services are available to you.
Will I be treated as an inpatient or an outpatient?
Depending on the type of treatment or care you are receiving you may be seen as an inpatient or an outpatient. You are considered an inpatient if you have been admitted to the hospital for treatment. Alternatively, you are considered an outpatient when you receive treatment at a hospital, but without being admitted. It’s important to know if you are going to be treated as an inpatient or an outpatient as this can impact the cost of treatment, and will help you to understand the amount of time you might need to spend at the hospital.
Health professionals you might see
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.
The health professionals listed below may be included in your palliative care team, there could also be other health professionals and people you see that are not included below, for example spiritual care practitioners and volunteers can offer practical and emotional support.
Counsellors can listen to what is going on in your life and offer strategies for dealing with issues you are facing. They do not need to have any qualifications to practise, although many do, so it’s a good idea to check before making an appointment.
Helps with nutrition concerns and recommends changes to diet during treatment and recovery.
General Practitioner (GP) or family doctor
Assists you with treatment decisions and works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care.
Administers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment.
Assists in adapting your living and working environment to help you resume usual activities during and after treatment.
Palliative care specialist
Oversees treatment for pain, nausea, constipation, anxiety, depression, breathlessness or any other symptoms you may have. They may also assist with decision-making about care and treatment.
Dispenses medicines and gives advice about dosage and side effects.
These allied health professionals have completed at least a four-year university degree. They focus on physical rehabilitation and prevention and treatment of injuries using a variety of techniques, including exercise, massage and joint manipulation.
Psychologists use evidence-based strategies to help you manage emotional conditions, usually in the long term. A registered psychologist must complete four years of psychology at undergraduate level, followed by either postgraduate studies in clinical or health psychology or two years of supervised clinical practice.
Links you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues.
Spiritual care practitioner
Also known as a pastoral carer, a spiritual care practitioner is often a member of the team at hospitals and cancer treatment centres. They can discuss emotional and spiritual matters and help you reflect on your life and search for meaning. They can also arrange prayer services and other religious rituals, if appropriate.
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