Examining public knowledge, attitudes and perceptions towards palliative care: a mixed method sequential study

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Palliative care is recognised as a public health issue with the need for earlier integration in the wider healthcare system. However, research indicates that it continues to be accessed late in the course of an illness, public understanding of palliative care is limited, and common misconceptions prevail. Strategies to address this are needed in order to reduce barriers to palliative care delivery and improve access. An explanatory sequential mixed methods study, comprising a cross-sectional survey and interviews was undertaken. Sociodemographic characteristics, public awareness, knowledge and perceptions of palliative care were examined and strategies to raise awareness and overcome barriers within a public health framework were identified. Survey data were analysed using SPSS v25 with factor analysis and non-parametric statistics and qualitative data were analysed using thematic analysis. A total of 1201 participants completed the survey (58.3% female, mean age 61 years) and 25 took part in interviews. A fifth of participants (20.1%) had previously heard about palliative care and had an accurate understanding of the term. Being female, higher educated, married, and older, increased respondents' levels of awareness. The three most commonly held misconceptions included: Palliative care is exclusively for people who are in the last 6 months of life (55.4% answered incorrectly); A goal of palliative care is to address any psychological issues brought up by serious illness (42.2% answered incorrectly); and a goal of palliative care is to improve a person's ability to participate in daily activities (39.6% answered incorrectly). Talking about palliative and end of life care was advocated but societal taboos restricted this occurring with exposure limited to personal experience. Current knowledge gaps and misconceptions derived from limited ad hoc personal experiences and fear of engaging in taboo conversations may deter people from accessing integrated palliative care services early in a disease trajectory. The results indicate the need for public education programmes that move beyond merely raising awareness but provide key messages within a public health approach, which may change attitudes to palliative care thus ultimately improving end of life outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Palliative Care (Biomed central)
Issue number44
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 17 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was jointly funded by the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland and the Department for Health (Ref: COM:5459/18). The funders had no influence in the design of the study, collection, analysis and interpretation of data, in writing the manuscript, or in any other part of the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Palliative Care
  • Knowledge
  • Attitudes
  • Public
  • Public Health
  • Mixed Methods
  • Health Promotion
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing
  • Female
  • Perception


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