Palliative care-related medications

Prescription medications 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 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 2016). 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 in the palliative care listings 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.

Data downloads

Palliative care-related medications table (257KB XLS)

Palliative care-related medications section (139KB)

The information in this section was last updated in May 2017.

Key points

  • Nationally, there were about 83,000 palliative care-related prescriptions (subsidised and under co-payment) provided to almost 52,500 patients in 2015–16 (1.6 prescriptions per patient, on average).
  • Seven in 10 patients (70.3%) received a PBS/RPBS subsidised prescription, a rate of 154.0 patients per 100,000 population.
  • PBS/RPBS subsidised prescriptions accounted for 78.6% of all palliative care care-related prescriptions, a rate of 272.6 subsidised prescriptions per 100,000 population.
  • About 1 in 8 (12.8%) patients who were supplied palliative care-related prescriptions (subsidised and under co-payment) during 2015–16 were aged 85 or older, with almost two-thirds (46.4%) aged 65 or older.
  • Laxatives were the most commonly prescribed medication type (subsidised) in 2015–16 (28.3%), followed by analgesics (22.0%) and anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic products (18.0%).


Palliative care 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 2016a). The Palliative care 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 by general practitioners or non-palliative care clinicians. The data used to create this chapter relate to the number of prescriptions recorded on the PBS/RPBS. When interpreting the information presented in this chapter, 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.


Australian Government Department of Health 2016a. Schedule of pharmaceutical benefits. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health. Viewed 1 December 2016.

WHO 2014. Global Atlas of Palliative Care at the End of Life. Geneva: WHO.