Medicines an integral part of palliative care: Palliative Care Week 2012

28 May 2012

Health professionals need to be vigilant to the symptom cascades that might arise in palliative care settings due to adverse effects of medicines, delegates at the NPS National Medicines Symposium have heard.

Presenter Debra Rowett, who has a special interest in pharmacovigilance, said the medicine regime often becomes much more complex as patients near the end of their lives, when symptom control medicines are added to medicines for long term co-morbid disease.

“For patients in palliative care, medicines play an important role in relieving suffering and distress at a time when symptom relief is paramount,” she said.

“However, symptom cascades can result from the adverse effects of medicines themselves.”

Coinciding with National Palliative Care Week 2012, NPS CEO Dr Lynn Weekes agrees that medicines play a vital role in improving the quality of life for patients in palliative care.

“Patients at the end stages of life often require multiple medicines to manage the pain or other symptoms associated with their illness. By applying best practice quality use of medicines, health professionals can improve the day-to-day quality of life for these patients giving them the best possible outcomes during this difficult time.

“Health professionals can help facilitate patient understanding and ease their decision making when it comes to using medicines in a palliative care situation by outlining all the options available to them and the pros and cons of each treatment, including any possible side effects,” says Dr Weekes.

It’s also important for patients at the end stages of life to clearly communicate their wishes for care, including where they would like to be cared for, how and by whom.

“Clear communication with your health professional regarding your treatment preferences can help ensure you receive the best possible care. Recording these preferences in an advanced care plan and sharing this plan with your family and close friends can help eliminate any confusion and enable them to make decisions on your behalf in line with your chosen treatment plan,” says Dr Weekes.

Further information on National Palliative Care Week is available at

A copy of the joint consultation report between NPS and Palliative Care Australia is available on our website.


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests.We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.