Palliative Care

What is palliative care?

Palliative Care focuses on improving quality of life for people living with life limiting illness through prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification, assessment and treatment of pain and other symptoms and addressing psycho-social and spiritual concerns.  Support includes the family or other carers.

Who can have palliative care?

Palliative care is appropriate for anyone with a life-limiting condition including increased frailty due to advanced age, chronic, incurable illnesses and disabilities.

What is a palliative approach?

A palliative approach emphasises improving quality of life by addressing people’s needs and preferences as they approach death and to provide bereavement support for families.

Who provides palliative care?

Palliative Care is delivered by primary care providers.  These include GPs, community health nurses, aged care services, hospitals and other specialists in areas such as cancer, kidney and lung diseases, social workers, counsellors, occupational, speech and physiotherapists, dieticians.

What is specialist palliative care?

Specialist palliative care services provide consultative or ongoing care for people living with life-limiting illness.  The specialist service builds on the palliative approach adopted by primary health providers.  Specialist palliative care delivers a higher level of expertise in complex symptom control, loss, grief and bereavement.

Specialist palliative care teams usually include doctors, nurses, social workers, occupational, speech and physiotherapists, counsellors or psychologists and volunteers. Community teams (doctors, nurses, social workers, other allied health professionals and volunteers), based in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie will also visit people at home in the towns and country in their regions.  Liaison staff work in the Royal Hobart Hospital, Launceston General Hospital and NW General Hospital.  The teams are part of the Tasmanian Health Service.

Other home based services (community nurses, GPs and other community based services) continue to provide regular services, linking with specialist palliative care to ensure a person’s needs are being met.

When is palliative care appropriate?

A Palliative approach to care will focus on quality of life and symptom management while recognising that the condition is incurable and will shorten life.  This may be appropriate for illnesses where life expectancy is weeks, months or even several years.

Research has shown that improved symptom management can extend life expectancy through relief of pain and emphasis on what a person wishes to achieve and how they wish to live.

Where is palliative care provided?

A palliative approach to care can be provided in a person’s own home, in residential care facilities, in acute and district hospitals and in specialist palliative care units or hospices.  Where someone receives care depends on their situation at any particular time – symptom issues, level of community and family support available, mobility and access, emotional support.

Is it possible to die at home?

Yes, people can be supported to die at home.  Equipment, nursing, medical and other services can be provided.  The assistance of family and other community supports is important to maintain care at home over the last days of life.

What support is available to family and friends to care at home?

Home supports include cleaning and domestic services, respite care so carers can take a break, overnight support to avoid hospital admission, social work for emotional support, occupational and physiotherapists to assist with mobility and equipment advice, volunteers for respite, emotional and practical assistance.

What should I expect in a palliative care unit?

Specialist palliative care units may be stand-alone or part of a larger hospital.  They may be one or two rooms or they may be a whole unit. Often there is direct access to a garden or other outside area. Generally they will provide facilities for families to visit at any time of day or night and to stay over in the patient’s room.  Usually there would be space to make a drink and a simple snack meal, and to take a break from sitting by the bedside.

Doctors will usually visit daily, and there is access to physiotherapists, psychologists or counsellors, social workers, occupational and speech therapists. Volunteers offer practical and emotional support to patients and their families/visitors.

Specialist palliative care units are not just places where people die.  Many people will come in for a short time to have complex symptom management issues resolved or to give respite to family carers.  These people are likely to return home.  They may or may not return to the specialist unit.

Palliative care in Tasmania

Palliative Care Units in the South:

Whittle Ward Royal Hobart Hospital Repatriation Centre
Davey St Hobart
tel: 03 6166 2800
10 bed public facility

Gibson Unit Calvary St John’s Hospital
Cascade Rd Sth Hobart
tel:03 6223 7444
Private facility

Palliative Care Units in the North:

Melwood Unit Calvary St Luke’s Hospital
Lyttleton St Launceston
tel:03 6335 3333
15 bed private and public facility

Rural Hospitals with palliative care suites:

  • Deloraine (2 suites)
  • George Town (1 suite)
  • Scottsdale (1 suite)
  • St Marys (2 suites)
  • St Helens (1 suite)
  • Flinders Island (1 suite)
  • Beaconsfield (1 suite)

Care in these suites is provided by hospital staff and GPs, assisted by Specialist Palliative Care Service where necessary