Which health professionals can help?

Wherever you receive end-of-life care, the different health professionals in your palliative care team can be called on as the need arises. They will work together to help meet your physical, practical, emotional and spiritual needs, and provide support to your family and carers.

You may not need to see all of the people listed below, but understanding the different roles can help you work out what support is available and who to ask about particular issues. Your care may be coordinated by your GP, a community or hospital palliative care nurse, or the specialist palliative care team.

The palliative care team

  • GP − continues to see you for day-to-day health care issues and may coordinate your palliative care.
  • Specialist palliative care nurse − may work in a community or hospital setting, can provide ongoing care and may coordinate your palliative care.
  • Nurse practitioner − has had additional training and may be able to prescribe some medicines and referrals.
  • Palliative care specialist or physician − prescribes or recommends treatment for more complex symptoms associated with advanced cancer; usually works in collaboration with your GP or palliative care nurse.
  • Cancer specialists (oncologists and surgeons) − may refer you to the specialist palliative care team and continue to provide cancer treatment to help manage your symptoms.
  • Pharmacist − gives you access to prescription and over-the-counter medicines to take at home; provides advice on safety and side effects; helps you keep track of your medicines.
  • Occupational therapist − can suggest aids to help you maintain mobility, and may assess your home and suggest equipment, such as hospital beds, wheelchairs and bedside commodes.
  • Physiotherapist − helps you manage daily activities; can use physical methods to help with pain relief and lung congestion.
  • Diversional therapist − offers recreational activities to improve your wellbeing.
  • Dietitian − works out the best eating plan for you and tries to use diet to assist with digestive issues, such as nausea or constipation.
  • Speech pathologist − may work with the dietitian to help you manage eating and swallowing problems.
  • Social worker − offers counselling and emotional support; provides information and referrals for legal and financial matters, help at home, and other services; and can help you record your memories.
  • Welfare officer − can provide information and referrals for legal and financial matters.
  • Counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist − helps you work through grief, fear and other emotions; can teach you meditation or relaxation exercises; a psychiatrist may prescribe medicines to help with managing your emotions.
  • Spiritual care practitioner (pastoral carer) − talks about any spiritual matters and helps you reflect on your life and search for meaning, if appropriate; may arrange prayer services and other religious rituals.
  • Volunteers − can help with home or personal care and transport, and also offer companionship.

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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