October 13th is World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. This year’s theme is ‘Palliative Care – Because I Matter’. Please don’t ignore this blog if you’re thinking ‘this isn’t for me’. Our editor Liza explains here just what palliative care is, and how it might be helpful for you or a loved one.

So, what is palliative care?

You may think that palliative care is just for people nearing the end of life. But this is not always the case.

It simply means treating symptoms and side effects of a disease and its treatment. Palliative care is often also called supportive care. It’s basically making someone feel a bit better. This can include emotional, practical, spiritual and social help, as well as physical care.

Because palliative care is often given near the end of life, it’s often ‘pigeon-holed’ into that category – meaning people only associate ‘palliative’ with ‘dying’.

But this type of supportive care can start at diagnosis and be used throughout treatment. It is not just something to ask about when you or someone you know is feeling their worst, but something to know about as soon as possible. This will prepare you to access the right care when it’s needed – whether that is at the end of life or sooner.

Where can you get palliative care?

If you have symptoms or side effects that are causing you problems, you can speak to your GP about being referred to a palliative care unit in a hospital or a hospice. Often people think of a hospice as being somewhere to die. Although this can be the case, some people go into a hospice for a short stay to help control their symptoms. Many hospices also have day centres. This means you can visit for help and support, without staying overnight. Hospices also offer support such as counselling and psychological support.

Can you get palliative care at home?

Community or district nurses can make regular home visits, change dressings, give medicine and support family and friends. They can also help with practical comforts, like pressure-relieving mattresses.

Macmillan palliative care nurses specialise in managing pain and symptoms, as well as giving emotional support to people and their families. They don’t usually provide daily care, but can visit regularly and advise you about clinical questions as well as emotional and practical help.

Watch Macmillan community nurse Mandy explain her job in this video: