Palliative care in the Algarve

By Alison Blair

What is it?

Palliative care (from the Latin ‘palliare’: to cloak) focuses on the relief of pain and other symptoms and the problems experienced in serious illness.

It concentrates on improving quality of life, by increasing comfort, promoting dignity and providing a support system to the person who is ill and those close to them. It neither hastens nor prolongs death. It celebrates life, even when time is limited. It regards dying as a normal process. Effective palliative care addresses ‘total pain’ by focusing on the alleviation of physical, emotional, social and spiritual distress.

Who is it for?

Palliative care is appropriate for anyone of any age who is facing serious illness. It can be delivered alongside active treatments that are designed to try to prolong life at an early point in the disease process. It is also applicable at the end of life and into bereavement

Where is it usually available?

In most Western European countries, USA, Australia and parts of Africa, South America and Asia, palliative care is delivered in several care settings, including home, care homes, nursing homes, hospitals and hospices. Hospices provide palliative care services at home, in day care centres or hospice inpatient units. Many people who receive inpatient hospice care return home once their problems or needs for care support are addressed.

Why do we need it?

The WHO (World Health Organisation) describes palliative care as a ‘basic human right’. Without it we have little or no choice about care provision at the end of our life and are at risk of experiencing inadequate or ineffective symptom control. This not only distressing for the patient but also for their loved ones and those involved in their care.

Have we got access to it?

With a population exceeding 11 million inhabitants in Portugal, it is clear that there is insufficient provision to service the needs of the 90% of patients who die following chronic or advanced illness. There is a significant lack of palliative care services throughout Portugal and the existing services do not cover the country systematically. According to the APCP (Associação Portuguesa de Cuidados Paliativos) currently, there are only 19 palliative care teams in service and 118 palliative care beds in Portugal. Most teams cannot provide a home service and the majority of palliative care units are in Lisbon or further north.

South of Lisbon there is a small palliative care unit operating in the Alentejo and a smaller palliative care team servicing the eastern border with Spain from Alcoutim to Vila Real. There are 10 palliative care beds available in the Algarve to service a population of half-a-million which means that many people requiring in-patient care will die before it becomes available to them.

This situation is being challenged; the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC), the International Association of Palliative Care (IAHPC), the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance (WPCA) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) are working together to promote access to palliative care as a human right.

Currently it’s a gloomy situation but not without hope. Change begins with us and in the Western Algarve and more recently in the Central Algarve region, Madrugada Associação, a not-for-profit organisation, has been working hard to raise funds and provide an effective palliative care service to anyone in need of end-of-life care or support throughout their treatment for a life-limiting illness such as cancer.

Their professional clinical service is delivered in the patient’s home and their support services are based in Praia da Luz.

If you would like to be involved in the work of Madrugada or would like more information about the services available, please contact us.

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282 761 375

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