Palliative Care

What is meant by the term palliative care, when and where it is provided and by whom.

Page last updated: 09 August 2017

Palliative and End-of-Life Care definitions

There are a number of different definitions of palliative care that are used both within Australia and internationally. For example, ‘hospice’, ‘end-of-life care’ and ‘specialist palliative care’ have all been used interchangeably with ‘palliative care’. Hence, definitions may vary within the sector.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines palliative care as:

“an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual. Palliative care:
  • provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms;
  • affirms life and regards dying as a normal process;
  • intends neither to hasten or postpone death;
  • integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care;
  • offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death;
  • offers a support system to help the family cope during the patients illness and in their own bereavement;
  • uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling, if indicated;
  • will enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness;
  • is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and includes those investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications.
Palliative care is provided in almost all settings where health care is provided, including neonatal units, paediatric services, acute hospitals, general practices, residential and community aged care services, and generalist community services.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s National Consensus Statement: essential elements for safe and high-quality end-of-life care defines end-of life as: “the period when a patient is living with, and impaired by, a fatal condition, even if the trajectory is ambiguous or unknown. This period may be years in the case of patients with chronic or malignant disease, or very brief in the case of patients who suffer acute and unexpected illnesses or events, such as sepsis, stroke or trauma”.

Palliative Care Services

Palliative care service provision occurs within the remit of the state and territory health systems. For information on who to contact to find out more about palliative care service provision in your local area visit the National Palliative Care Service Directory.

Alternatively, you may wish to contact your local state or territory palliative care member organisation:

Palliative Care NSW - 02 9206 2094
Palliative Care QLD - Freecall 1800 660 055
Palliative Care VIC - 03 9662 9644
Palliative Care ACT - 02 6255 5771
Palliative Care NT - 08 8951 6762
Palliative Care WA - 1300 551 704
Palliative Care SA - 08 8271 1643
Palliative Care Tasmania - 03 6231 2799

The National Palliative Care Strategy

The National Palliative Care Strategy 2010 – Supporting Australians to Live Well at the End of Life (the Strategy) represents the combined commitments of the Australian, state and territory governments, palliative care service providers and community based organisations to the development and implementation of palliative care policies, strategies and services that are consistent across Australia.

PDF version: National Palliative Care Strategy 2010 (PDF 274 KB)
HTML version: National Palliative Care Strategy 2010 (HTML)

The Strategy has four goal areas:

Awareness and Understanding
  • To significantly improve the appreciation of dying and death as a normal part of the life continuum.
  • To enhance community and professional awareness of the scope of, and benefits of timely and appropriate access to palliative care services.
Appropriateness and Effectiveness
  • Appropriate and effective palliative care is available to all Australians based on need.
Leadership and Governance
  • To support the collaborative, proactive, effective governance of national palliative care strategies, resources and approaches.
Capacity and Capability
  • To build and enhance the capacity of all relevant sectors in health and human services to provide quality palliative care.
The Australian Government has a health policy leadership role in palliative care and provides financial support to state and territory governments to operate palliative care services, a form of subacute care, as part of their health and community service provision responsibilities.

In addition, the Australian Government funds a range of National Palliative Care Projects focussing on education, training, quality improvement and advance care planning.

Evaluation and update of the National Palliative Care Strategy 2010 – Supporting Australians to Live Well at the End of Life

An evaluation of the Strategy commenced in March 2016 and was finalised in October 2016. This evaluation was undertaken to determine the relevance and useability of the National Palliative Care Strategy 2010 – Supporting Australians to Live Well at the End of Life. The evaluation was informed by an evidence review as well as national consultation through workshops, in-depth interviews, and online submissions.To review the evaluation please refer to the documents below:

Evaluation of the National Palliative Care Strategy 2010 - Supporting Australians to Live Well at the End of Life (Word 891 KB)
Evaluation of the National Palliative Care Strategy 2010 - Supporting Australians to Live Well at the End of Life (PDF 1329 KB)

The evaluation found that while the Strategy has helped improve awareness, understanding, capacity and capability, there is a need to update and strengthen the Strategy. The update of the Strategy commenced in March 2017 and was informed through interviews with over 50 key experts, including state and territory government health departments.

The update of the Strategy has now been drafted and is available for public consultation. Three hour workshops are being held in each capital city to discuss the structure and content of the updated Strategy. The feedback of these workshops will be used to refine the Strategy. For more information on the workshops please visit the Workshops - National Palliative Care Strategy Update webpage.

Online submissions will also be available for people to provide feedback. For more information on the online submission please visit the National Palliative Care Strategy update - Online Consultation webpage.

The National Palliative Care Projects

On 26 May 2015, the then Assistant Minister for Health, the Hon Fiona Nash MP, announced the following recipients of funding under the National Palliative Care Projects: Collectively these projects aim to improve access to high quality palliative care through education and training for the health professionals and aged care workers, and raise awareness of planning for end-of-life care.

Through the Better Palliative Care in Aged Care measure, the Australian Government also funds specialist palliative care and advance care planning advisory services nationally to aged care providers and general practitioners providing health care for recipients of aged care services.