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Palliative care is the care and support of people with a serious progressive illness. It also includes care for their families. The aim of palliative care is to achieve the best quality of life for patients with life-threatening illnesses and their families, and can be part of end-of-life care.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined palliative care as follows:

  • Provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
  • Affirms life and regards dying as a normal process
  • Intends neither to hasten or postpone death but to enhance quality of life
  • Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
  • Offers support to help patients live as actively as possible until death, and to help the family cope during the illness and in bereavement
  • Is applicable early in the course of illness alongside other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy

What is Specialist Palliative Care?

Although palliative care is often provided by hospital staff, or carers working in people’s homes, there are also Specialist Palliative Care Teams who can provide:

  • Assessment, advice and care for patients and families in all settings, including hospitals and care homes
  • Inpatient facilities in hospices or hospitals for patients who would benefit from continuous support and care
  • Home care for patients with who wish to stay at home, often known as ‘hospice at home’. This may involve the specialist palliative care service working alongside the patient’s own doctor and district nurse to provide advice, nursing, and medical, social and emotional support
  • Day care facilities that offer a range of opportunities for social interaction, support and friendship. Many also offer creative and complementary therapies.

Who Provides Palliative Care?


Hospices care for the whole person, aiming to meet their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs in the last stages of their life.

Hospice care can be provided at home, in day care, and in the hospice itself. The average length of stay is just 13 days and half of those admitted to a hospice return home again. All care is provided free of charge.

Hospices can provide a range of services including:

  • Pain control and symptom relief
  • Skilled nursing care
  • Counselling, complementary therapies, physiotherapy and spiritual care
  • Activities such as art, music, reminiscence, beauty treatments
  • Bereavement support