Palliative care is the provision of physical, emotional and spiritual care for patients with life limiting illnesses, and for their families. Of all the health professions, nurses spend the greatest period of time with patients at the end of their lives. As a result, nurses are uniquely placed to shape and improve the delivery of palliative care services in countries around the world.
At PCNA, we work with the World Health Organization’s definition of palliative care as a tool 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.’
While many specialist palliative care nurses have specialist skills and training, many of our members incorporate a palliative approach in caring for patients who are nearing the end of life. A palliative approach is about improving a patient’s quality of life across all domains, rather than an emphasis on physical symptoms alone.
Nurses deliver palliative care in a wide range of settings, from homes and residential aged care facilities to hospitals and hospices. One of the defining features of palliative care is that it’s uniquely interdisciplinary – nurses work alongside a range of other health professionals, such as medical specialists, social workers, counsellors, physiotherapists, and pastoral or spiritual caregivers.
As well as supporting patients, nurses engaged in palliative care also work closely with patients’ family members. This work can include helping families to take on a caring role; helping them make decisions with, or on behalf of, the patient; and providing comfort in the lead up to, and after, the patient’s death. Supporting families can make a lasting difference to their memories of the end-of-life experience.