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 regionalized