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What is palliative care?

Overview of palliative care

Dying can be painful and, frankly, it's hard. It seems strange to talk about the quality of life of dying people, but that’s what palliative care is all about: improving the quality of life, and the quality of death, of the patients who receive it. If you want a formal definition of palliative care, click here

At the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care, we help you and your family by providing physical, emotional and spiritual support through the final months, weeks and days. That care can be delivered at home or in hospital. Other organizations also provide care in hospices. 

Your care may involve a number of different elements. For example, effective management of pain and symptoms provides comfort and allows you to function and stay at home if that is your wish. Access to counsellors, social workers, psychologists and spiritual leaders can help you and your family work on other important issues before dying.

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History of palliative care

In the past, the burden for providing what we might think of today as palliative care, was borne by family members or religious communities.

Modern programs of care for the dying began in Britain, in the late 1960s. The first hospice to link expert pain and symptom control, compassionate care, education and clinical research was St. Christopher's Hospice in London, England. It was established in 1967 by Dame Cicely Saunders.

Adapted from Medical Care of the Dying, 4th edition, Victoria Hospice Society, 2006.

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Palliative care in Canada

Formalized palliative care didn't arrive in Canada until 1974-75, when teaching hospitals in Winnipeg (St. Boniface Hospital) and Montreal (Royal Victoria Hospital) set up the first Canadian hospices on the model established nearly a decade earlier in Britain.

In the United Kingdom and the United States, palliative care services have never moved far out of the private hospice. Canada has taken a different approach. Palliative care in Canada is offered in a number of different settings: the home, dedicated hospices, nursing homes, hospitals and other long-term care facilities.

In recent years, Canada's health care system was restructured, placing a greater burden on community-based programs such as those offered by the Temmy Latner Centre. Government funding of these community-based programs has not increased in proportion to this increased burden, leaving a significant gap between the needs of an aging population and the levels of service that these programs can provide.

According to the 2000 Senate Report Quality End-of-Life Care: The Right of Every Canadian, approximately 15% of Canadians who require palliative care services have access to them. The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association estimates that currently 73% of all Canadians who die would benefit from palliative care programs and services. This situation will likely become more acute in the years to come if it is not addressed.

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