Palliative care

Learn about palliative care. Find out how it can help improve your quality of life if you are living with a life-threatening or serious illness.

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What is palliative care?

If you have a life-threatening condition or a serious illness, palliative care can:

  • help improve your quality of life
  • reduce or relieve your physical and psychological symptoms
  • help you have a more peaceful and dignified death
  • support your family and those you care for while you are dying and afterward

This type of treatment can involve:

  • pain management
  • symptom management, such as:
    • nausea
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • difficulty breathing
  • social, psychological, spiritual and emotional support
  • caregiver support

These services can be appropriate for people of all ages. They aim to make you and your loved ones feel as comfortable as possible. This can be done through personalized treatment plans that meet your needs and those of your family.

Information and support on palliative and end-of-life care, loss and grief can also be found at the Canadian Virtual Hospice.

Who can provide palliative care?

Palliative care can address suffering experienced in all areas of your life. Because of this, a diverse team can be involved in providing palliative care. The team may include:

  • physicians
  • nurses
  • pharmacists
  • social workers
  • trained volunteers
  • home care workers
  • bereavement support workers
  • informal caregivers, such as family members

The type of care team and level of training they receive can vary across the country.

Where are palliative care services provided?

Palliative care can be provided in a variety of settings, such as:

  • hospitals
  • at home
  • long-term care facilities
  • hospices (a home for people living with a terminal illness)

While hospitals are designed to address severe and urgent needs, they may not be the best location for comfortable end-of-life care. Also, delivery of and access to palliative and hospice care varies across Canada. This is due to differences in:

  • needs of society
  • level of funding
  • regional demographics
  • organization of health care services
  • availability of trained health care providers and volunteers

There is no single national palliative care program. This is why governments and health care institutions are developing better models of palliative care in Canada where:

  • service is provided through a range of settings and providers
  • the needs of family and friend caregivers are recognized
  • more health care providers are trained in palliative care
  • advance care planning is encouraged as part of treatment plans routine care

To find out more about palliative care, talk to your doctor, home care worker or other health care provider, or find more information about end-of-life care services in your province or territory.

You can also contact the national palliative care association or the palliative care association in your province or territory:

Developing a framework for palliative care in Canada

On December 12, 2017, the federal government passed a bill calling for the Minister of Health to create a framework for palliative care in Canada. The Act (formerly, Bill C-277) says that the Minister must develop a framework that will support improved access to palliative care across Canada.  The Minister must also consult with provinces, territories and palliative care providers. The Act says the framework should focus on important issues facing palliative care, including:

  • Training and education for health professionals and other caregivers
  • Ways to support palliative care providers
  • Promoting research and data gathering
  • Ways to support access to palliative care no matter where you live

On December 4, 2018, the Minister of Health tabled the Framework on Palliative Care in Canada in Parliament. The Framework reflects the voices of the many Canadians heard throughout the consultations. It presents a common Vision and Guiding Principles, as well as short, medium and long term goals related to each of the important issues mentioned above. The Framework also includes priorities identified through the consultations; these are actions that any individual or organization can use in their palliative care policy and program planning. The Framework represents a guideline for all palliative care stakeholders to use to improve access across Canada.

Health Canada will follow up with a plan that sets out those priorities that fall under federal responsibility, and how the federal government plans to implement them.

Learn more about the Act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada.

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