What do palliative nurses do?

When people face terminal illnesses or embark on end-of-life journeys, palliative care nurses provide vital support, comfort, and enhancement of quality of life.

Although widely recognised, palliative care is frequently misunderstood due to its specialised, interdisciplinary nature and various definitions. In this guide, we explain the role of palliative care nurses and highlight their invaluable contributions to patients and their families during these challenging times.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is the treatment, care and support for people with a life-limiting illness. It aims to ensure a person needing care can have a good quality of life and remain as independent and active as possible in the time they have left.

A life-limiting illness is an illness that cannot be cured and one that you are likely to pass away from. Complex conditions that are life-limiting include advanced cancer, dementia and motor neurone disease.

Care includes managing physical symptoms such as pain, providing personal care which may have become difficult for the person to do themselves, and offering emotional, spiritual and psychological support.

The role of a palliative nurse

Palliative care nurses embody a compassionate and holistic approach to supporting patients and their families. With specialised knowledge and skills, these nurses offer personalised and comprehensive care, while addressing the unique needs of each individual.

Here is more information on the important role of palliative nurses:

Create a care plan

At the onset of palliative care, a collaborative effort ensues to devise a tailored care plan involving healthcare professionals, the patient, and their family. Palliative care nurses take an active role in this process by conducting comprehensive assessments of the patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. The resulting individualised care plan evolves with the progression of the illness, embracing a holistic approach that addresses the person as a whole, not merely their symptoms.

Provide emotional and spiritual support

Recognising that serious illness encompasses more than just physical challenges, palliative care nurses extend empathetic support and counselling to patients and their families. Palliative care can last for a long time, and palliative nurses offer solace and guidance throughout this time, helping families navigate the emotional and spiritual complexities of their journey.

Collaborate with other healthcare professionals

Palliative care embraces a multidisciplinary approach, with nurses serving as vital collaborators alongside doctors, social workers, chaplains, and other healthcare professionals. Through close coordination, they ensure comprehensive support for both physical and emotional distress, regardless of the stage of the illness.

End-of-life care expertise

While not all palliative care patients are in the terminal phase of their illness, palliative care nurses possess expertise in end-of-life care. They facilitate discussions surrounding end-of-life preferences, arrange for inpatient care at hospitals or hospices as needed, and prioritise the patient’s comfort and dignity during this transition.

Offers ongoing bereavement support

The compassionate care provided by palliative nurses extends beyond the patient’s passing, encompassing bereavement support for their family and friends. Through counselling, resource provision, and emotional guidance, palliative care nurses assist families in coping with loss and adjusting to life without their loved ones.

Roles and responsibilities of palliative care nurses

Palliative care nurses undertake a diverse array of responsibilities, catering to the varying needs of patients and their families. Their tasks encompass both physical and emotional support, ensuring the overall wellbeing of those under their care.

  • Palliative care nurses monitor symptom progression closely, adjusting care plans to ensure patient comfort.
  • They conduct thorough health assessments to tailor personalised care for each patient.
  • Assisting with medication management, they ensure proper administration and effectiveness.
  • Acting as liaisons, they facilitate communication between patients and other healthcare professionals.
  • They educate patients, families, and caregivers on symptom management and coping strategies.
  • Palliative care nurses provide support with mobility and personal care tasks.
  • They offer compassionate emotional support to patients and families.
  • Providing respite care, they give family members essential breaks while maintaining continuity of care.
  • Through a multidisciplinary approach, they aim to improve patients’ quality of life in their final days.

Where do palliative care nurses work?

Palliative care nurses operate in diverse settings, offering their expertise and support in:

  • Patient homes: Palliative care nurses provide end-of-life support directly in patients’ homes, offering around-the-clock care or scheduled visits. These visits allow patients to remain in familiar surroundings while receiving compassionate care and offer respite for family members and caregivers.
  • Hospices: In hospice settings, palliative care nurses focus on maximising patients’ quality of life, providing support during challenging moments and alleviating symptoms. Hospices offer a peaceful environment conducive to comfort and dignity.
  • Care homes: Certain care homes provide end-of-life care with trained staff in palliative care. These settings offer a comfortable and supportive environment for patients, ensuring they receive the necessary care and attention.
  • Hospitals: Palliative care teams in hospitals facilitate discharge plans, ensuring seamless transitions for patients requiring palliative care in hospice or home settings. They collaborate closely with other healthcare professionals to meet patients’ needs effectively.

How do I become a registered palliative care nurse?

Becoming a palliative nurse in the UK requires specific qualifications. Typically, you need to be a registered nurse (RN) first, achieved by completing a nursing degree approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). This could be a Bachelor’s degree in nursing or a diploma in higher education.

There are several pathways to becoming a nurse, including completing a degree or traineeship approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) or the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI).

After qualifying as a nurse and obtaining your registered nurse (RN) qualification, you’ll need to undergo end-of-life training. This training can range from short courses resulting in a completion certificate to longer courses lasting several weeks, culminating in a palliative care qualification. You can pursue this training while working as a general nurse or within a palliative care setting, such as a hospice.

Gaining experience in areas related to palliative care, such as oncology or geriatrics, can also be advantageous. Some employers might prefer candidates with relevant experience or advanced degrees like a Master’s in nursing.

To practise in the UK, all nurses must register with the NMC, while in Ireland, registration with the NMBI is required. Continuous professional development and meeting the NMC or NMBI revalidation requirements are essential for maintaining your qualification as a registered palliative care nurse.

Expert nurse-led care

At Prestige Nursing & Care we have been providing complex care to people in their own homes for over 75 years.

We are trusted by our clients, their families, Integrated Care Board (ICB) and case managers to provide skilled and compassionate nursing care that is focused on improving health and overall wellbeing – and all in the place people love most, their own home.

Call us on 0808 239 1525 and our friendly care experts will discuss your care and support needs. You can also fill out our online enquiry form or email info@prestige-nursing.co.uk. We provide impartial guidance and advice so you make the right choice for you and your family.

We are here to take your call and will provide impartial support and guidance – contact our friendly care experts today to discuss your care needs.


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