When should someone be offered palliative care? This can be a tough question for families to face.
Palliative care comes towards the end of someone's care, helping them to manage symptoms that cannot be cured.
It focuses on making end of life care comfortable and dignified while supporting family members.
This article will answer the question 'when should someone be offered palliative care?', to help guide you when caring for a loved one.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- Palliative care is a care service provided to you or your loved one at any stage of a long-term or terminal illness.
- People receive palliative care to help them live a comfortable and dignified life through pain management and emotional support.
- Palliative care doesn’t mean that someone is expected to die soon, but it can be provided in conjunction with end of life care.
- What you pay for palliative care depends on your eligibility for local authority funding, but other help may be available.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is designed to make you feel as comfortable as possible while living with a terminal illness.
It involves managing pain and any distressing symptoms using medication plus psychological, social and even spiritual support.
It is seen as a holistic approach to medical care, as it doesn’t just deal with your illness but with your whole person.
Essentially, palliative care is a multi-discipline system to support patients to live as fulfilled and active lives as possible until they die.
Palliative care uses a team approach to support patients who are terminally ill.
Across the palliative care team, providers address practical needs such as pain management and reducing symptoms.
It can help people living with conditions such as dementia, stroke, cancer, kidney failure and heart disease.
The palliative care team includes professionals such as counsellors and psychiatrists to provide emotional support.
As well as those living with an illness, palliative care is also offered to caregivers to support them through the process of bereavement.
End of life care
When coming to the end of an illness your loved one will be offered palliative care meaning that they are coming to the end of their life.
In this case palliative care is combined with end of life care, though the two are separate entities.
This could begin in the last few months or years of their life with a view to helping them die comfortably and with dignity.
While death isn’t always possible to predict, end of life is defined as when they are likely to die within 12 months.
When should someone be offered palliative care?
Palliative care is for anyone living with a serious illness at any stage.
This can begin on the day of diagnosis, all the way through to end of life care in the last months, weeks or days.
From mentally supporting you through diagnosis to managing pain and other symptoms, your palliative care team is there to help.
Palliative care and terminal illness
Palliative care first becomes available as soon as you learn you have a terminal illness.
This is because a terminal illness cannot be cured, but it can be managed to help you live comfortably.
This does not mean that death is imminent, but begins to prepare people and their families for the time.
Palliative care for families
As well as the person receiving care, families, close friends and carers can also be offered palliative care.
This is due to the emotionally distressing experience of illness, especially a terminal diagnosis.
They can connect with palliative care professionals who offer practical support and empathy through an emotional time.
So when should someone be offered palliative care?
The answer is as soon as possible.
Accessing the right support during treatment guides you physically and emotionally to minimise the distressing effects of illness.
Where can someone be offered palliative care?
If your care provider has offered palliative care, you can receive it wherever you feel most comfortable.
This could be in a hospital, care home, a hospice or your own home.
What is the difference between palliative care and home care?
If you are offered palliative care while receiving care in your own home the two services can be provided together.
But your basic social and health care needs won’t necessarily change.
For example, you may require assistance washing or taking medication as well in addition to palliative care services.
Palliative care in a care home
If someone is offered palliative care, they can choose to receive it in a care home.
Care homes are well equipped to support people with a range of health and care needs with staff on hand at all times.
Some care homes, or nursing homes, offer skilled nursing care for more complex health care needs.
Palliative care in a hospital
Most hospitals have a specialist palliative care team who will be involved in providing your care.
You can also receive end of life care in a hospital, with healthcare professionals on the ward.
To organise palliative care for a loved one, talk to your care provider.
They will be able to give you advice relevant to your loved one’s financial situation and health needs.
Paying for palliative care
What you pay for palliative care depends on your health needs and financial situation established in your care plan.
NHS Continuing Healthcare
If you are being treated for a primary health need, then you may be eligible for NHS continuing healthcare.
This is funding made available to you by the NHS clinical commissioning bodies to help treat an ongoing health condition.
The funding is not means tested, and it pays for care in both a care home or your own home.
Can you get free palliative care?
Palliative care is free if:
- You’re being treated in an NHS hospital
- The care home or home care is funded by the local authority or other funding, such as NHS continuing healthcare
- You receive treatment in hospice or hospice care at home
Not only does this cover emotional needs, they can also support you financially by covering the cost of palliative and end of life care.
They accept referrals from GPs, district nurses and other healthcare professionals, and take steps to reduce the stress of organising care for families.
You will be expected to self-fund your palliative care if you are already a self-funder of care home or home care fees.
Unless you are moved to an NHS hospital or a dedicated hospice, you would be expected to continue funding palliative care costs.
Benefits with special conditions for palliative care
Palliative care is available for people with terminal illnesses such as cancer, dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s and other conditions.
There are some benefits which you become automatically eligible before if you are diagnosed with 6 months or less to live.
For people living with a terminal illness, the application process is fast-tracked to get you the help you need sooner.
Personal Independence Payment
The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) helps with living costs if you have a long-term illness and need help at home.
Once notified of your condition, the DWP fast tracks your application to get you the money sooner with fewer hurdles.
PIP claims can also be made on behalf of a person who is terminally ill.
Personal Health Budget
The personal health budget supports you with personalised planning for your care.
For palliative care, this gives you the choice about who provides care, where it is received, and eventually, where you would like to die.
People receiving palliative care, who are not eligible for NHS Continuing Healthcare, may still be able to access a personal health budget.
If you’ve reached state pension age and have a terminal illness you can fast-track your application for attendance allowance.
If your claim is successful you’ll get paid the higher rate of £92.40, which can help you access care for your condition.
You can apply on behalf of someone else if they are too sick, don’t know they are terminally ill or are struggling.
UC is a means-tested benefit that helps you with living costs rather than specific care costs.
Universal credit for terminal illness means that you will not have to complete a Claimant Commitment or a Work Capability Assessment.
There are also fast-track processes for application if you have a terminal illness.
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