The World Health Organisation recognises palliative care as a global public health issue andthis is reflected at strategic level. Despite this, palliative care may not be universallywelcomed. Surveys over the last decade have suggested that the general public have a lack ofknowledge and negative perceptions towards palliative care. A detailed and comprehensiveunderstanding of public views is needed in order to target education and policy campaignsand to manage future needs, expectations and resourcing of end of life care. The aim of thisstudy was to establish the current levels of awareness and attitudes towards palliative careamong the general public in Northern Ireland.MethodsA community-based cross-sectional survey with a population of 3,557 individuals aged over17 years was performed. Information was collected using a structured questionnaireconsisting of 17 items. Open questions were subject to content analysis; closed questionswere subject to descriptive statistics with inferential testing as appropriate.ResultsA total of 600 responses were obtained (response rate 17%). Responses indicated limitedknowledge about palliative care. Female gender and previous experience influencedawareness in a positive direction. Respondents who worked in healthcare themselves or whohad a close relative or friend who had used a palliative care service were more aware ofpalliative care and the availability of different palliative care services. Findings reveal thepreferred place of care was the family home. The main barriers to raising awareness werefear, lack of interaction with health services and perception of lack of resources. A number ofstrategies to enhance awareness, access and community involvement in palliative care weresuggested.ConclusionsPublic awareness of the concept of palliative care and of service availability remainsinsufficient for widespread effective and appropriate palliative care to be accepted as thenorm. In particular, those without previous family-related experiences lack awareness. Thishas implications for palliative care service provision and policy. An increased awareness ofpalliative care is needed, in order to improve knowledge of and access to services whenrequired, empower individuals, involve communities and ultimately to realise the objectivescontained within international strategies for palliative and end-of-life care.