Many misunderstand how palliative care works

Some incorrectly think it is a last resort
  • Deborah Condon

Many people misunderstand how palliative care works and as a result, some of those who would benefit from it are less likely to seek it out.

This week is Palliative Care Week and according to the All Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care (AIIHPC), some people who would benefit from this type of care are missing out on an improved quality of life.

Palliative care focuses on helping people with life-limiting conditions to achieve the best quality of life they can. It is not just for the end of life.

It involves the management of symptoms, such as pain, but also aims to provide support for a person's emotional, social and spiritual needs. It can be provided at home, in hospital, in a nursing home or in a hospice.

Palliative Care Week, which runs until September 19, aims to raise awareness of the difference palliative care can make to people with life-limiting conditions, but also to their families and carers.

The theme of the week is 'Palliative Care: In This Together' and this year's event takes into account the major impact that COVID-19 has had.

In a survey carried out to highlight the week, half of people said that they think COVID-19 has increased the importance of talking about palliative care.

However, the survey also highlighted the many myths associated with palliative care, with one-third of respondents saying that this type of care is a last resort, when in fact, palliative care can be provided for years, rather than just weeks or days.

"Much fear and misunderstanding persists about palliative care. The assumption that the role of palliative care professionals is limited to end of life risks denying vital care to patients.

"Palliative care enables those living with a life-limiting illness to be empowered to experience an improved quality of life. It is not dependent on prognosis or disease, and can be delivered at the same time as curative treatment," explained Dr Brian Creedon, a consultant palliative medicine physician in University Hospital Waterford and clinical lead for the National Clinical Programme for Palliative Care.

He encouraged people to become more informed about the role of palliative care and to reflect on their own future care preferences.

Joe McCann from Dublin is receiving palliative care from St Francis Hospice, Dublin. Mr McCann was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread into his bones and leg in 2018.

"It was a complete shock to myself and the family. They caught the cancer in time, but there is nothing they could do with the bone. Then St Francis Hospice got in touch and I went there about once a month for relaxation therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

"They also gave me exercises to do at home, like breathing exercises. I found this very relaxing. The palliative care has been absolutely great," he explained.

Mr McCann's daughter, Vivienne, pointed out that when you hear the words palliative care, "it knocks you back, but we have seen a whole other side to it".

"It's a support system. It's being around people that are in the same position as you, and the support received has been amazing. I'd say the biggest improvement I've seen in him would be his mental health," she noted.

Current evidence suggests that up to 80% of people who die have conditions that would benefit from some palliative care services

"This week we would like people to think about palliative care and how it could help them. We encourage people to talk about palliative care and its benefits with their GP or other health and social care professionals, and with those who are important to them," commented AIIHPC director, Karen Charnley.

For more information on palliative care, visit the AIIHPC's Palliative Hub here.


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