Palliative care overview

Key points about palliative care overview

  • Palliative care is the provision of caring and dignified support and services for people of all ages facing a life-limiting condition.
  • It's provided wherever the person is, whether that is in the home, hospital, community clinic or hospice.
  • If you have been diagnosed with a life-limiting condition, palliative care aims to allow you to live the way you want during and after treatment.
  • It also aims to equip your family and caregivers to support you, while also taking care of themselves.
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Palliative care is widely misunderstood by many New Zealanders. The following are examples of common myths about palliative care:

Myths Facts
Palliative care hastens death Palliative care does not hasten death. It provides comfort and the best quality of life from diagnosis of an advanced illness until end of life.
Palliative care is only for people dying of cancer Palliative care can benefit patients and their families from the time of diagnosis of any illness that may shorten life. 
People in palliative care who stop eating die of starvation People with advanced illnesses don't experience hunger or thirst as healthy people do. People who stop eating die of their illness, not starvation.  
Pain is a part of dying Pain is not always a part of dying. If pain is experienced near end of life, there are many ways it can be alleviated. 
Palliative care is only provided in a hospital Palliative care can be provided wherever the patient lives — home, long-term care facility, hospice or hospital. 

Read more: 10 myths about palliative care [PDF, 585 KB]

The diagnosis and treatment of a life-limiting condition can be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. Palliative care is not just helpful at the end of life, but at any stage of the illness. 

  • Palliative care should be provided as soon as the diagnosis of a life-limiting condition is made. 
  • It may be helpful if you suffer from pain, stress or other symptoms that affect your quality of life.
  • Palliative care aims to help you and your family with your needs, expectations, hopes and fears.
  • Ensuring that people are living in comfort and without distress is as important as ensuring a good death.

Palliative care is provided wherever the person is, whether that is in the home, hospital, community clinic or hospice.

Palliative care is generally provided by a team, depending on the setting and the resources available. This team may include family members, community carers, doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers.

Examples of how team members may provide palliative care include:

  • Palliative care nurses – provide general care and help you manage pain and other symptoms. They often act as main point of contact between you and the rest of your care team
  • Social workers – provide support to you and your family and help connect you with the services and resources you require. 
  • Pain specialist – experts at finding the cause of pain and treating it.
  • Dietitian – help with any dietary challenges, such as nausea or loss of appetite, provide information on specialised eating plans if required.
  • Physiotherpists – help improve strength and movement.
  • Occupational therapists – focus on helping you with daily tasks and activities. 
  • Grief and bereavement counsellor – help guide and support families experiencing grief and loss.

The palliative care approach focusses on meeting the needs of the whole person not just treating their condition.

Palliative care should involve:

  • An explanation of your illness, treatments, and medications to you and your caregiver.
  • Pain treatment to help improve your quality of life and relieving any suffering.
  • Support with managing personal care (showering, eating, etc).
  • Advice on self-care, such as healthy eating, exercise, and relaxation. 
  • Guidance on ways in which you can receive support and ways you can network with others.
  • Help with decision-making.
  • Assistance with advanced care planning, so you can make informed and active decisions about how you want to live and die.

You can receive palliative care wherever you choose to be – at home, in hospital or in residential care. Hospice care is available where this support is seen as needed by you and your healthcare team.

Many health professionals and support agencies may be involved in your care including your GP, district nurses and any other medical specialists who are part of your regular care such as an oncologist or kidney specialist. If you’ve been referred to a specialist palliative care team in the hospital or by referral to a hospice, your GP will continue to be involved in your care. The palliative care team will help co-ordinate your care in partnership with your wider healthcare team, family, hospital and community organisations.

Hospices around New Zealand provide support to people and their families who are living with a terminal illness. Most people are referred to their local hospice by their GP or main healthcare provider. Anyone is welcome to contact their local hospice to find out more about their services. Hospice care is free for anyone in New Zealand who’s eligible for free healthcare.

Hospice NZ has published a booklet called A Guide for Carers(external link). This is an excellent resource for friends and family which covers practical and emotional issues around caring for someone with a terminal illness.

Skylight(external link) is a not-for-profit NZ organisation who specifically support children and young people affected by loss and grief.

The Cancer Society(external link) provides services and support for terminally ill patients and families.

Personal stories in which people share their experiences of palliative care.

Video: We all thought hospice wasn't for us

Catherine explains how her mother, who was reluctant to access hospice support, has embraced all that has been offered. She describes how she has been involved in the decision-making process and how and when hospice gets involved. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Hospice NZ, 2015)

Video: Caring for me and my family

Anna shares the experience of her husband's death and the impact hospice counselling services had on their family and for her personally. She shares her experiences of grief and how she has embraced the concept of living every moment. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Hospice NZ, 2015)

Video: The importance of listening

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Hospice NZ, 2015)

Video: Getting the most out of palliative care

Lucy, who has a life-limiting condition, shares what she’s learned about palliative care and how to get the most from medical consultations. Click the image and scroll to the bottom of the page to view video.

(external link)

(NHS, UK, 2016)

Video: Getting the best out of palliative care – Joe and Melita's story

Melita has terminal cancer. She and her husband Joe describe how palliative care has helped to make her more comfortable. This video may take a few moments to load.

(external link) 

(NHS, UK, 2016)

Video: You only die once – Kate Granger’s story

Kate, a specialist registrar in geriatric medicine, has a terminal cancer diagnosis. In this video, Kate and her husband Chris share their journey and talk about dying, death and making plans for the end of life. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Hospice UK, 2014)

Palliative care(external link) Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora
End of life service(external link) NZ Government
Standards for palliative care(external link) Hospice NZ
Te Ara Whakapiri – principles and guidance for the last days of life(external link) Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora
Hospice NZ(external link)


Te Hokinga ā Wairua End of Life Service(external link) Te Hokinga ā Wairua End of Life Service, NZ A conversation worth having, Help when you need it most
A guide for carers(external link) Hospice NZ
5 ways resource series Hospice NZ Ways to talk to a child about death(external link), Tips for writing condolences(external link), Conversation starters with your family(external link), Ways to help someone who is grieving(external link), Myths about palliative care(external link), How to talk about death(external link), Things you might not know about death(external link)
What is palliative care? Palliative Outcomes Initiative, NZ Simplified Chinese and English [PDF, 2 MB], Korean & English [PDF, 2.2 MB], Samoan & English [PDF, 2 MB], Tongan & English [PDF, 1.9 MB]
Living with life limiting illness Palliative Outcome Initiative, NZ, 2020 English & Arabic(external link), English & Simplified Chinese(external link), English & Hindi(external link), English & Korean(external link), English & Samoan(external link), English & Tongan(external link)
Hospice carePalliative Outcome Initiative, NZ, 2020 Arabic & English(external link), Simplified Chinese & English(external link), Cook Island Māori & English(external link), Hindi & English(external link), Korean & English(external link), Māori & English(external link), Samoan & English(external link), Tongan & English(external link)
Personal cares The following resources have been developed to help to answer questions that carers may have around oral care, and appetite and eating Fluids and the use of artificial hydration(external link) St Christopher’s Hospice, London, Why won’t they eat?(external link) St Christopher’s Hospice, London, 2010

Note: This resource is from overseas so some details may be different in NZ, eg, phone 111 for emergencies or, if it’s not an emergency, freephone Healthline 0800 611 116.


About palliative care(external link) Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Sara Rishworth, Palliative Care Specialist

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