A new international framework for palliative care

S. H. Ahmedzai, A. Costa, C. Blengini, A. Bosch, J. Sanz-Ortiz, V. Ventafridda, S. C. Verhagen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In spite of recent advances in anti-cancer treatments, most adult cancer patients still ultimately die from their disease. There should therefore be free access to palliative care around the clock and seven days a week, for all cancer patients, as a fundamental human right. At present, the implementation of palliative care and patients' access to it are inconsistent across Europe and many other parts of the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) made an important advance in 1986 by first defining palliative care and, then updating this definition in 2002. However, this definition could benefit from further refinement in order to reflect the increasing multi-professional specialisation in this subject, and to recognise the different models for delivering this type of care. We recommend that palliative care should be defined as follows: Palliative care is the person-centred attention to symptoms, psychological, social and existential distress in patients with limited prognosis, in order to optimise the quality of life of patients and their families or close friends. Based on this definition, we propose two further types of palliative care which reflect the reality of how palliative care is actually delivered: Basic palliative care is the standard of palliative care which should be provided by all healthcare professionals, in primary or secondary care, within their normal duties to patients with life-limiting disease. Specialised palliative care is a higher standard of palliative care provided at the expert level, by a trained multi-professional team, who must continually update their skills and knowledge, in order to manage persisting and more complex problems and to provide specialised educational and practical resources to other non-specialised members of the primary or secondary care teams. If a patient has difficult symptoms which cannot be controlled by his/her current healthcare team, he/she has a right to be referred, and the current healthcare provider has an obligation to refer, to the local palliative care team. Important priorities to ensure the standardisation of, and uniform access to, palliative care for all cancer patients include: Integration of palliative care services with the primary care and oncology teams. Establishment of a specialised palliative care service in each major cancer centre. Establishment of educational programmes covering palliative care for undergraduates, oncologists, primary care team members and specialists training in palliative care. Support for research using appropriate methodologies to underpin the scientific basis of palliative care. Establishment of quality assurance programmes. Recognition of palliative medicine as a medical specialty. Establishment of academic centres of excellence with chairs of palliative medicine and palliative care nursing. Removal of unnecessary restrictions on all drugs which are proven to be of benefit in symptom control, especially improving access to strong opioids. Improved information for patients and family carers to allow them to make choices and exercise autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2192-2200
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2004


  • Carers
  • European School of Oncology
  • Framework
  • Multi-professional
  • Palliative care
  • Services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Hematology
  • Oncology


Dive into the research topics of 'A new international framework for palliative care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this