Palliative care-related medications

Pharmaceutical medicines are an important component of care for palliative patients. One of the attributes of palliative care is to ‘provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms’ (WHO 2014). In the majority of cases, this involves medications being prescribed by the treating clinician.

Information on medications presented in this section is sourced through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS). Through these schemes, the Australian Government subsidises the cost of pharmaceutical products listed in the Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits (Department of Health 2017a). In 2004, the Australian Government introduced the Pharmaceutical Benefits for Palliative Care Schedule as a subsection of the PBS Schedule to improve access to essential and affordable medications for patients receiving palliative care. As well as those medications listed on the palliative care schedule, palliative patients can also access medications in the general listings of the PBS/RPBS schedule. However, only those medications listed in the palliative care schedule and medications prescribed (and subsequently dispensed) by palliative medicine specialists are discussed in this chapter; the former being referred to as palliative care-related prescriptions.

Due to significant changes to the items listed on the palliative care schedule from June 2016, data for 2016–17 are not comparable with previous years.

Data downloads

Palliative care-related medications tables 2016-17 (193KB XLS)

Palliative care-related medications section 2016-17 (212KB)

The information in this section was last updated in October 2018.

Key points

  • Nationally, there were about 914,000 palliative care-related prescriptions (subsidised and under co-payment) provided to almost 495,000 patients in 2016–17.
  • About half of patients (53.5%) who received a PBS/RPBS prescription received a subsidised prescription, a rate of 1,086.4 patients per 100,000 population.
  • PBS/RPBS subsidised prescriptions accounted for 62.2% of all palliative care-related prescriptions, a rate of 2,331.6 subsidised prescriptions per 100,000 population.
  • About 1 in 17 (5.9%) patients, who were supplied palliative care-related prescriptions (subsidised and under co-payment) during 2016–17, were aged 85 or older, with one–third (33.0%) aged 65 or older.
  • Anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic medications were the most commonly prescribed medication type (subsidised) in 2016–17 (61.8%), followed by analgesics (26.7%) and laxatives (7.2%).


Palliative care-related medications may be prescribed for patients with ‘active, progressive and far advanced diseases for whom the prognosis is limited and the focus of care is quality of life’ (Department of Health 2017a). The medications discussed in this chapter include those dispensed for palliative care treatment. However, it is likely that some medications are prescribed by palliative medicine specialists for reasons other than palliative care. Additionally, some other medications prescribed as a part of palliative care might have been excluded, such as those medications not listed in the PBS/RPBS palliative care schedule and prescribed other practitioners. The data used to create this chapter relate to prescriptions recorded on the PBS/RPBS. When interpreting this information, it is useful to note that individual prescriptions will vary in the number of doses, the strength of each individual dose and the type of preparation (such as tablets or injections). This level of detail is not reported here.