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What are the five stages of palliative care?

Fonthill House, St Albans, Hertfordshire

For those living with a terminal illness, palliative care controls symptoms, plans for future care, and improves the quality of life. It’s not just for those with a late-stage terminal illness and should be considered as soon as a diagnosis is received. The five stages of palliative care can take place over many years, helping both you and your loved ones prepare for the future.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is for those with a terminal illness – offering physical, emotional and practical support to improve the quality of life. This is a type of holistic care that cares for every aspect of your well-being. The aim of palliative care is to make you feel comfortable and supported, rather than trying to cure your illness. The support includes:

  • Managing physical symptoms and pain
  • Providing ongoing treatment of your illness
  • Emotional and spiritual care
  • Daily support with practical things like washing and meals
  • Providing support to family and friends
  • Supporting advance care planning such as documenting any wishes you want to be carried out


There’s no ‘right time’ to start palliative care, however, it’s designed to help you manage and come to terms with your terminal illness, meaning you can begin right after diagnosis. Palliative care also extends to your loved ones who are on this journey with you, meaning you can involve them throughout the five stages.

What are the five stages of palliative care?

Palliative care tends to be split into five different stages which we’ve broken down below. Understanding these stages will help you and your family get the most out of the care and determine when’s best to start the process.

1. Creating a plan

Your initial care plan is created by your GP and any other relevant specialist medical professionals. You’ll work together to plan any palliative care services you need and how these might evolve as your illness progresses. The plan will usually include:

  • Present and future treatment plan
  • The expected progression of your illness
  • Essential medicines and symptom relief
  • Initial care preferences (whether you’d like to stay at home or have a specific therapy)


During the initial planning stage, you also may want to start discussing your wishes. This may include your advanced decision which sets out when and under what circumstances you may refuse treatment or resuscitation. This is an important decision that you shouldn’t rush into which is why you should always discuss the consequences with your doctor.

2. Preparing emotionally

Having the right emotional support to prepare for what’s ahead can make a significant difference to you and your family, giving you confidence on the upcoming journey. Your social worker, counsellor and religious/spiritual adviser (if requested) will offer support by arranging a safe space for you to discuss your emotions with a therapist, your meaning and purpose or even massage and music therapy. 

This emotional support will not only help you to come to terms with your illness but also helps your loved ones prepare for the future.

3. Early stage care

Stage three of palliative care focuses on maintaining your independence by assisting with your daily living using visiting carers or setting your home up with specialist equipment. This equipment could range from an adjustable bed to oxygen cylinders to assist with breathing. 

If your home requires some adaptations to navigate safely, most local councils will cover the cost of modifications under £1000 which includes things like grab rails and ramps. If you require more costly changes, you can ask your social worker about government funding or the Disabled Facilities Grant for larger modifications including walk-in showers and stairlifts.

This emotional support will not only help you to come to terms with your illness but also helps your loved ones prepare for the future.

4. Late stage care

At this point, your healthcare team will begin to plan more permanent late-stage care. This is when discussions around hospice care or live-in carers will take place and you’ll require more support. This is the point at which end-of-life care will begin.

5. Supporting your loved ones

At stage 5, your palliative care team will provide your loved ones with bereavement support over the next 12 months. This can help your family to navigate their loss with healthy coping mechanisms whilst also carrying out any of your wishes.

Where can palliative care be provided?

Palliative care often takes place within the comfort of your home. Whilst the palliative care team is based within the hospital or clinic, they tend to treat outpatients by administering medicines, providing support for loved ones and helping you to maintain independence for as long as possible. If you have a short-term hospital admission, palliative care can also be provided during this time. 

Palliative care is an important part of coming to terms with a terminal illness, feeling supported throughout and feeling confident that your loved ones also feel emotionally supported. Receiving a terminal diagnosis is life-changing and at Fonthill House, we’re here to provide care and support your well-being, simply contact us today.

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