The new division of Interdisciplinary Palliative Care and Medicine

30 December 2021 Read time 4 min.

Over the past 20 years, the palliative medicine programmes at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have become an established and world-renowned palliative medicine teaching and research group, and the first postgraduate program in palliative medicine on the African continent. In 2021, the UCT Senate approved this unit becoming a stand-alone division, known as the Interdisciplinary Palliative Care and Medicine (IPCM) division. IPCM is ideally situated within the new clinical department of Family, Community and Emergency Care, emphasising the commitment of IPCM to ensure accessible evidence-based palliative care across the continuum of care.

The World Health Assembly Resolution “Strengthening of palliative care as a component of comprehensive care throughout the life course”, identifies palliative care as an ethical responsibility of health systems, and that it is the ethical duty of health care professionals to alleviate pain and suffering. Palliative care is also identified as an essential element of Universal Health Coverage. Under the leadership of Associate Professor Liz Gwyther, the palliative medicine programs were established at UCT in 2001 and offered both a post-graduate diploma (PGDip) and masters (MPhil) in palliative medicine with the first graduates in 2002.

Over the past 20 years, this unit has grown to become an established world-renowned palliative medicine teaching and research group, and the first postgraduate program in palliative medicine on the African continent. In 2021, the UCT Senate approved this unit becoming a stand-alone division, known as the Interdisciplinary Palliative Care and Medicine (IPCM) division. IPCM is ideally situated within the new clinical department of Family, Community and Emergency Care, emphasising the commitment of IPCM to ensure accessible evidence-based palliative care across the continuum of care.

IPCM’s vision is to strengthen our current academic program to assist in ensuring access to sustainable, quality and appropriate palliative care for all ages when indicated, for South Africa and beyond. Since 2002, this division has developed a strong footprint in the undergraduate MBChB program. Palliative care is practised across the care continuum and aims to expose students to palliative care training in different disciplines and  from primary care to tertiary care. Decentralised training in the primary care setting in the Heideveld Emergency Care ward and at Dr Abdurrahman  allows the UCT IPCM team to train students and strengthen the existing palliative care services in these settings. Building and supporting strong relationships with the Department of Health and local NGO has created a commitment from all the organisations to improve access to quality palliative care. The NGO’s have supported palliative care training for many years and we are especially grateful for the continued support from Knysna Hospice, Bethesda Hospice, Abundant Life and the Hospice Palliative Care Association for supporting teaching and training.

The Division will continue to offer a post-graduate diploma in Palliative Care/Medicine and an MPhil program. Graduates from these courses have become leaders in palliative care both nationally and internationally. One such graduate is Professor Martin Chasen, from the University of Toronto, who continues the support of the division in an honorary  position. The Division is proud of its research projects and collaboration with a global research unit, aiming to strengthen the national  health care system and ensure distinct African palliative care is accessible to patients and families. We have collaborated with Professor Richard Harding from Kings College in London on various projects, strengthening global palliative care.

The Division actively provides clinical palliative care and mentorship, and works alongside the Department of Health to ensure palliative care is integrated into the South African health setting. Members of the division serve on the national and provincial Palliative Care task teams as well as the Association for Palliative Care providers in South Africa (Palprac) advocating for accessible, sustainable quality palliative care. The Division is also a proud member of the African Palliative Care Association assisting in developing the African palliative care community.

We hope to ensure that this Division will grow alongside the development of international palliative care practices as an integrated but distinct element of essential patient care. It is our vision to grow the leaders of palliative care on the African continent in clinical care, research and as advocates in quality palliative care.


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