Two hands holding

Palliative care

Gaps in care

Critically ill Canadians are falling through the cracks when it comes to palliative care. Canada’s patchwork of palliative care services is costly and inconsistent, which is bad for patients and for the sustainability of our healthcare system. Find out more in the report entitled: Right to Care: Palliative care for all Canadians.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care focuses on the quality of life of people who have a progressive, life-altering illness. It includes pain and symptoms management, skilled psychosocial, emotional and spiritual support and comfortable living conditions with the appropriate level of care – at home, in hospice, in hospital or in any other setting of the person’s choice.

Palliative care is a critical component of the cancer continuum of care and healthcare overall. Palliative care should be provided early, introduced progressively and with other therapies, using a multidisciplinary team approach. End-of-life care is a component of palliative care that focuses on the specific needs of someone who is dying.

The importance of palliative care?

The impact of palliative care has been studied extensively. Research shows that palliative care:

improves quality of life and satisfaction with care for people with cancer and their family caregivers

means less use of hospital emergency departments at the end of life

increases the likelihood that people with cancer will die in a setting of their choice

Palliative care has been shown to be particularly effective when delivered early, before the last stages of life. However, the quality and availability of palliative care differs between and within provinces and territories. Accessibility and availability of care is not consistent even in large cities and can be even scarcer in rural and remote areas. Even when palliative care services are available, not all Canadians know about these services or how to access them.

While palliative care is often thought of as an option that is only available for people who are nearing the end of their life, palliative care can and should be delivered throughout the cancer journey.

Current advocacy in palliative care

The Canadian Cancer Society has been advocating for better access to palliative care for Canadians for many years. In this time, various initiatives have been put forward at the federal level to better support Canadians with cancer and their caregivers. Progress has been significant, but gaps still remain.

We are calling on the federal government to focus on the Minister of Health’s mandate letter commitment to make home care and palliative care more available across the country; specifically, to fund all priorities of the Palliative Care Framework in Canada, including:

Palliative care education and training for health care providers and caregivers

Measures to support palliative care providers and caregivers

Research and the collection of data on palliative care

Measures to facilitate equitable access to palliative care across Canada, with a focus on underserved populations

The Canadian Cancer Society calls on provincial and territorial governments to enact legislation to develop frameworks in their respective jurisdiction to enhance the delivery of palliative care.

Our position

Canadians should have access to affordable, high-quality palliative care, regardless of where they live and where they choose to receive care.

The Canadian Cancer Society recognizes that facing life-threatening illness, especially in relation to pain and suffering, can cause great concern and severe hardship for people. We promote and support the need for improved development and delivery of early, active, competent and compassionate palliative care, which includes: expert pain management; skilled psychosocial, emotional and spiritual support; and comfortable living conditions with the appropriate level of care – whether at home, in a hospital or any other settings of the person’s choice. The Canadian Cancer Society believes that all Canadians should be able to choose the best care for them throughout their cancer journey.

CCS’s efforts remain focused on ensuring that people dying from cancer patients spend their final days with dignity, free of pain and in a setting of their choice.

Palliative care in Quebec

In addition to the work we are doing federally, the Canadian Cancer Society is advocating to the Quebec government on a number of important issues that will help improve palliative care in the province.

Improve data collection to better measure and ensure access to palliative care and end-of-life care

CCS wants to ensure the government is collecting data on patients’ and caregivers’ access to palliative care and is using that data to invest where there are gaps in the palliative care system. Palliative care differs greatly from one institution to another and from one region to another. CCS believes the Government of Quebec should establish a set of indicators to measure Québecois’ access to palliative care and use the data to ensure all Québecois have equitable access to palliative care.

Earlier access to palliative care for people living with cancer

Too often, people with advanced cancer are transferred to palliative care late in their cancer journey. CCS would like palliative care to be offered at the earliest possible point during the treatment of people with cancer. Palliative care benefits everybody when introduced early.

Access to palliative care where people with cancer want it

CCS is calling on the Government of Quebec to invest in ensuring Québecois have a choice in the setting in which they receive in palliative care. If given the choice, most Québecois would prefer to die at home. Yet the majority of the palliative care beds are found in hospitals. CCS is calling on the Government of Quebec to invest in more palliative care beds outside of hospitals as well as greater palliative care to be offered at home and made available throughout the province. This increase in palliative care must be accompanied by more support and respite for caregivers, and coverage of medications and equipment as in hospitals.

Ensure are healthcare providers have adequate palliative care education and training

High-quality palliative care cannot be delivered without adequate training and education. CCS urges the government to ensure all healthcare providers, including allied healthcare providers, receive appropriate education and training on the basic principles and practices of palliative care. Training and education on how to properly deliver palliative care will help ensure people with cancer receive the highest quality of care regardless of setting.

Invest in palliative and end-of-life research to improve patient outcomes

CCS believes that the Government of Quebec should invest in palliative care research to continue developing and evaluating effective practices. Research in palliative care and end-of-life allows for the development of a constantly evolving framework that can adapt to patient needs.