Understanding Palliative Care

Understanding Palliative Care

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is an approach that aims to reduce suffering and improve the quality of life for people living with a serious illness. Serious illnesses can include cancer, dementia, motorneuron disease, end-stage kidney or lung disease, heart disease and stroke.  

Palliative care can be provided along with other treatment plans and can be offered in a range of settings, including one’s home, a care facility, a hospital, hospice, or outpatient centre, depending on a person’s needs     

When a person approaches end of life, palliative care becomes increasingly important to ensure quality, coordinated care and symptom management. 

In Canada and around the world, quality palliative care:  

  • focuses on the needs and concerns of patients and their families 
  • pays close attention to physical symptoms, such as pain, nausea, loss of appetite and confusion 
  • considers the emotional, social, cultural and spiritual concerns of patients and families 
  • ensures that care is respectful and supportive of patient dignity 
  • uses a team approach that may include volunteers, social workers and spiritual leaders, in addition to medical staff

The goal of palliative care is to improve the overall quality of life for both the patient and their family.  

Palliative care focuses on the person and family affected by serious illness, not just the illness itself. 

This means the person receiving care, and their family, are at the centre of decision making, placing their values and wishes at the forefront of treatment considerations.    

Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-care-system/reports-publications/palliative-care/framework-palliative-care-canada.html 

Choosing palliative care 

If you or a loved one has received a serious illness diagnosis, you may want to ask your doctor about palliative care. Palliative care may be appropriate at any age and any stage in the course of illness, together with other treatment plans or therapies. Palliative care can be requested at any timefrom diagnosis to bereavement.  

The palliative care team 

Palliative care is usually provided by a team of specially trained doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s primary physicians to provide an extra layer of support. The palliative team can include a variety of practitioners, including occupational therapists and spiritual counsellors, as well as trained volunteers from community organizations.  

Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-care-system/reports-publications/palliative-care/framework-palliative-care-canada.html 

For information on palliative resources and services in your area please see the contacts below:

Provincial contacts

BC Health System Services

  • HealthLink BC: www.HealthLinkBC.ca  (Toll free, 24/7) 8-1-1 / (hearing impaired) 7-1-1 HealthLink BC provides access to non-emergency health information and advice in British Columbia. Information and advice is available 24-hours a day by phone, a website, or a mobile app. Topics include: Care at the End of Life and Advance Care Planning.
  • BC Cancer Agency Pain and Symptom Management Clinics: www.bccancer.bc.ca  The Agency offers pain and symptoms management clinics at each of six regional cancer centres to help patients improve pain control and cope with physical problems related to cancer. No referral is required to access these services. Includes information on Managing Symptoms and Side Effects.
  • BC Palliative Care Benefits Program: www2.gov.bc.ca BC Palliative Care Benefits cover certain drugs, medical supplies, and equipment that are used in palliative care. These benefits are available to individuals of any age who have reached the end stage of a life-threatening disease or illness and wish to receive palliative care at home.
  • Program offered by local health authorities:
    • End-of-Life Care and Palliative Care: contact your local health authority to learn more These services aim to preserve an individual’s comfort, dignity and quality of life as their needs change, and include: care coordination and consultation, pain/symptom management, community nursing and rehab, home support, caregiver respite, and residential hospice care.
    • Home and Community Care Services: contact your local health authority to learn more  These services are designed to complement and supplement, but not replace, individual efforts to care for themselves with the assistance of family, friends and community (on a short-term or long-term basis, depending upon individual needs).


Patient and Caregiver Support

  • Employment Insurance Compassionate Care Benefits Program: www.Canada.ca  Employment Insurance benefits may be paid to people who have to be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill and who has a significant risk of death. A maximum of 26 weeks of compassionate care benefits may be paid to eligible people.
  • Family Caregivers of BC: www.FamilyCaregiversBC.ca   (Toll free) 1-877-520-3267 Non-profit group provides direct support for family caregivers (support groups, referral to community organizations, support line), as well as education and engagement.
  • After Hours Palliative Tele-Nursing Service: www2.gov.bc.ca Telephone nursing support by a palliative care nurse expert helps family caregivers problem solve and determine whether the patient needs hospital care. Available 9:00 pm – 8:00 am, seven days a week, to all palliative care patients using home care services and their caregivers.
  • Inspire Health: www.InspireHealth.ca  (Toll free) 1-888-734-7125 Supportive care for patients living with cancer and their families, including guidance on diet, stress reduction and emotional counseling, decision making, exercise, and personal coaching


Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning is the process a capable adult follows to ensure that their beliefs, values and wishes for future health care are known in the event that the adult is incapable of making health care decisions when the health care is required. All capable adults in B.C. are encouraged to do advance care planning, and to document their wishes and instructions for future health care.

  • HealthLink BC: www.HealthLinkBC.ca/health-feature/advance-care-planning
  • Speak Up – Advance Care Planning BC Workbook: www.Speak-UpinBC.ca Informs British Columbians about the importance of advance care planning and includes useful tools such as a workbook to  help individuals begin their own advance care plan.
  • Nidus Personal Planning Resource Centre and Registry: www.Nidus.ca Non-profit charitable organization providing information on Representation Agreements and other personal planning tools.  Also operates a centralized Registry for personal planning documents.


Grief and Bereavement

  • BC Association of Clinical Counsellors: BC-Counsellors.org  (Toll free) 1-800-909-6303 Resource for connecting with professional counsellors in BC.
  • BC Bereavement Helpline: www.BCbereavementhelpline.com  (Toll free) 1-877-779-2223 Non-profit, free, and confidential service that connects the public to grief support services within BC.
  • Victoria Hospice: www.VictoriaHospice.org  (Victoria) 250-370-8715 Bereavement team offers counselling to anyone in the community who is suffering loss, regardless of a prior connection to Victoria Hospice.
  • Lower Mainland Grief Recovery Society: lmgr.ca  (Lower Mainland) 604-696-1060 Non-profit charitable organization that organizes grief support groups in the Vancouver area.


Additional Resources

  • BC Hospice Palliative Care Association: bchpca.org  (Toll free) 1-877-410-6297 Non-profit organization providing a broad range of services to British Columbians who are dying and to their loved ones who  are grieving.
  • Canadian Virtual Hospice: www.VirtualHospice.ca Website provides support and personalized information about palliative and end-of-life care to patients, family members, health care providers, researchers and educators.
    • LivingMyCulture.ca: Online forum for people from various cultures to voice their experiences, wisdom, and traditions relating to palliative care and grief.
    • Mygrief.ca: Online resource developed to help people work through their grief.