What is palliative care?
Palliative care helps people with a life-limiting illness to improve their quality of life and manage symptoms. Life-limiting illness means a condition, illness or disease that is progressive and cannot be cured.
Palliative care is available to people of all ages and at any stage of their illness.
Palliative care includes psychological, social and spiritual support for the patient and their family or carers, and includes support in bereavement.
You may be referred to palliative care services if you have been diagnosed with a life-limiting condition such as cancer, heart failure or motor neuron disease. The Health Service Executive (HSE) is responsible for providing palliative care services.
Types of palliative care
There are different types of palliative care available, depending on your needs.
You may be given palliative care in:
- Your own home, by home-care nurses working with your family doctor and a specialist palliative care team if needed
- A hospice, which is a specialist palliative care unit
- A general hospital by a specialist palliative care team
- A community hospital or nursing home, by home-care nurses working with your family doctor and specialist palliative care teams if needed
Access to palliative care is decided by the HSE on the basis of need. The availability of palliative care varies across the different counties in Ireland.
A hospice is a unit where the main activity is providing specialist palliative care. Other services are developed around these units such as in-patient care, day care, community palliative care, out-patient care and bereavement services.
You may be referred for specialist palliative care in a hospice if you have a progressive, life-limiting condition and your needs become, or are expected to become, more difficult to manage (see ‘How to get a referral for palliative care’ below).
There are 13 hospice units in Ireland. They are located in:
- Dublin (4 hospice units)
Cost of palliative care
Palliative care is free for all patients and their families. You do not need a medical card. If you have private medical insurance, your insurer may be asked to contribute towards the cost of your care.
Children's palliative care
Palliative care for children is delivered differently from the palliative care services for adults.
Palliative care for children is usually provided at home. In the home, the family is supported by their family doctor, public health nurse and the specialist palliative care team (where available).
In hospitals, paediatric-trained staff provide medical and nursing care, with support from the specialist palliative care service.
There is more information on palliative care for children on The Palliative Hub for Children and Young People.
How to get a referral for palliative care
Referral to palliative care can be organised as soon as a diagnosis is made. You can be referred for palliative care services through any of the following:
- Your family doctor
- Your hospital doctor in consultation with your family doctor
- The hospital’s specialist palliative care team in consultation with your family doctor
The HSE has responsibility for providing palliative care services. Contact your Local Health Office.
The Irish Association for Palliative Care provides a services directory which includes palliative care services in each county.
The Palliative Hub provides information and resources on palliative care on the island of Ireland.
You can read about Advance Healthcare Directives.
You can also get support from: