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A Canadian Cancer Society report says critically ill Canadians are falling through the cracks when it comes to palliative care and calls for action to improve care across the country. Canada’s patchwork of palliative care services is costly and inconsistent, which is bad for patients and for the sustainability of our healthcare system. Read the report entitled: Right to Care: Palliative care for all Canadians.
The Canadian Cancer Society recognizes that facing life-threatening illness, especially in relation to pain and suffering, can cause great concern and severe hardship for some people. The Society promotes and supports the need for improved development and delivery of early, active, competent and compassionate palliative care, which includes: expert pain management; skilled psychosocial, emotional and spiritual support; and comfortable living conditions with the appropriate level of care – whether at home, in a hospital or any other settings of patients’ choice. The Society believes that all Canadians should be able to choose the best care for them throughout their cancer journey.
The Canadian Cancer Society's efforts remain focused on ensuring that dying cancer patients spend their final days with dignity, free of pain and in a setting of their choice.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care focuses on the quality of life of people who have a progressive, life-altering illness. Palliative care includes pain and symptoms management, skilled psychosocial, emotional and spiritual support and comfortable living conditions with the appropriate level of care – at home, in hospice, in hospital or in any other setting of the person’s choice.
Palliative care is a critical component of the cancer continuum of care and healthcare overall. Palliative care should be provided earlier in the course of advanced cancer, introduced progressively and with other therapies, using a multidisciplinary team approach. End-of-life care is a component of palliative care that focuses on the specific needs of someone who is dying.
Importance of palliative care
The impact of palliative care has been studied extensively. Research shows that palliative care:
- improves quality of life and satisfaction with care for people with cancer and their family caregivers
- means less use of hospital emergency departments at the end of life
- increases the likelihood that people with cancer will die in a setting of their choice
Palliative care has been shown to be particularly effective when delivered early, before the last stages of life. However, the quality and availability of palliative care differs between and within provinces and territories. Accessibility and availability of care is not consistent even in large cities and can be even scarcer in rural and remote areas. Even when palliative care services are available, not all Canadians know about these services or how to access them.
While palliative care is often thought of as an option that is only available for people who are nearing the end of their life, palliative care can and should be delivered throughout the cancer journey.
Guaranteed access to palliative care for all Canadians
Medically necessary services are not defined in the Canada Health Act. It is up to each provincial and territorial government to determine which services are medically necessary. This means services are covered differently by each public health insurance plan.
Several provinces have programs or laws that either partly cover or provide financial assistance for care and services related to palliative care at the end of life. But programs vary across the country.
Some issues exist nationwide – services and systems are not integrated, data collection across provinces is inconsistent in measuring key indicators, lack of common tangible standards or frameworks that define an acceptable level of care, and an inconsistent definition of who needs palliative care. Some of these challenges could be addressed by the adoption of a national framework. The Canadian Cancer Society is encouraged with Parliament studying Bill C-277: An act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada.
Invest to improve access to high-quality palliative care
Improving palliative care in all settings - including outside the hospital - should result in more efficient use of healthcare dollars, but there will be upfront costs to facilitate the change. The Canadian Cancer Society was pleased to see the federal government commit to invest $ 6 billion over 10 years in home care and palliative care. Federal and provincial/territorial governments should now work together to address the most pressing needs Canadians face when accessing palliative care services.
Support patients and family caregivers
Few programs and policies exist to support family caregivers. At the federal level, the Employment Insurance (EI) Compassionate Care Benefit can provide job protection and income support for up to 26 weeks for someone caring for a loved one dying, or at risk of death.
In 2017, a new EI Caregiver Benefit of up 15 weeks was announced for individuals providing care to an adult family member who requires significant support in order to recover from a critical illness or injury.
A new Canada Caregiver Credit to improve existing tax measures for caregivers was also announced in 2017. Some caregivers may also be eligible for other tax measures, such as the Medical Expense Tax Credit.
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Printed: April 5, 2020
The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health. We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete. The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on cancer.ca, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.