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What is palliative care?

Palliative care is the term used to describe the care that is given when cure is not possible. The word comes from the Latin 'palliatus' (covered or hidden with a cloak) and is used to mean 'relieving without curing'.

Palliative care is a proactive approach involving a multi-professional team. As well as controlling pain and other distressing symptoms, it applies a holistic approach to meeting the physical, practical, functional, social, emotional and spiritual needs of patients and carers facing progressive illness and bereavement.

Although historically associated with the later stages of cancer, it is now established that palliative care should also be a routine part of care for those living with and dying from a wide variety of non-malignant conditions, such as dementia, heart failure, Huntington's disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease, renal failure and respiratory failure among others.

Palliative care can be provided at any stage following diagnosis of a life-limiting illness or condition, and not solely in the last few days, weeks or months of life. A palliative care approach should be used as appropriate alongside active disease management from an early stage in the disease process.

The World Health Organization offers the following definition of palliative care:

"Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems 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:

Depending upon a person's needs, different levels of palliative care may be provided by a number of different people and services:

General palliative care

General palliative care is an integral part of the routine care delivered by all health and social care professionals to those living with a progressive and incurable disease, whether at home, in a care home, or in hospital.

General palliative care is care that is based on the understanding and practice of palliative care principles. These include:

Specialist palliative care

Specialist palliative care is based on the same principles of palliative care outlined above, but can help people with more complex palliative care needs. Specialist palliative care is provided by specially trained multi-professional specialist palliative care teams and can be accessed in any care setting.

More specific information about palliative care, designed for individuals, families and carers is available here: NHS Inform website.

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