What is palliative medicine?
In 1987, the Royal College of Physicians recognized palliative medicine as a specialty,
defining it as ‘the study and management of patients with far-advanced disease
for whom the prognosis is limited and the focus of care is quality of life’.
In 1990, the World Health Organization added its definition, ‘the active and
total care of a person whose condition is not responsive to curative therapy’.
The aim of palliative medicine is to control pain and other physical symptoms, together
with integration of psychological, social, spiritual care and support. The ultimate
goal is to help patients to achieve their best quality of life. Palliative medicine
places emphasis on a holistic approach, offering care and support not just for patients
but also for their families. Palliative medicine hence requires an interdisciplinary
team approach. With the co-ordinated efforts of all disciplines (such as doctors,
nurses, therapists, social workers, clinical psychologists, dieticians, pastoral
care workers and volunteers), patients can be supported in living their remaining
lives as actively as possible, and families can be assisted in coping with illness,
death and bereavement. Palliative care neither intends to postpone death nor does
so, but affirms life and regards dying as a normal process. When a patient faces
an incurable illness, it is incumbent on the palliative care team to provide the
best treatment and care, adding life to days when days cannot be added to life.