Palliative Care Queensland

A lifetime of care

After more than two decades in the industry, palliative care is still very personal for Michael Bolton.

Dr Bolton, who was honoured at last year’s Palliative Care in Queensland annual awards, is humble about his achievements but still fiercely passionate about the importance of palliative care.

“Palliative care is a relatively new speciality in modern health care. It was developed to promote comfort and quality of life in people with life limiting illness,” he says. “Our aim is to help make quality of life better for such patients and their families by assisting with the relief of pain and physical and emotional suffering from their illnesses.

“What I say to patients is that ‘palliative care aims to help you be at peace and comfortable and to have as good a quality of life as is possible in the context of your illness. Its purpose is neither to prolong nor to shorten your life but to help it to be as comfortable as it possibly can in a location of your choice. We will do whatever we need to do to help you to achieve that goal’.

“I like to think of it as relieving suffering, which is not only related to pain, but to lots of other things as well. The provision of quality palliative care has many aspects to it – emotional care, counselling, and spiritual care and helping people and their families with ‘unfinished business – as well as physical care. It is not just end of life care.”

Dr Bolton, who is still actively involved in the sector at 78, said good palliative care is a “team game”.

“You are part of a team and every member of that team is every bit as important as the others. They all contribute different things and the resulting quality of care is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

“As well as medical practitioners, the team may include people such as nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, as well as  psychologists, social workers/counsellors, and pastoral carers who are absolutely integral to good palliative care whether people have a formal religious affiliation or not.

“[Pastoral carers] need to be valued. They need to be regarded, and paid, as allied health professionals. So often [their work] is done on a voluntary basis and I just think that sort of cheapens it, although it is not intended to do so. Wonderful people do it and it is so important that they are recognised as a central part of the team.”

Dr Bolton, who graduated from the University of Queensland in 1963 and spent more than a decade as a rural GP in Chinchilla, started working in palliative care in 1995 at the then Mt Olivet Hospital [now St Vincent’s] at Kangaroo Point.

His interest in the field was partly driven by a deeply personal experience with the death of his brother and sister-in-law.

“My brother Paul died of bowel cancer when he was 39. He was a surgeon and Professor of Surgery at the University of Tasmania. He was diagnosed in late 1977 and he died in May 1978.

“His wife Judy was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier in the same year [1977] and she died a few years later in 1984. They had four children, so it was very sad.”

Years later, after working with Queensland Health in a number of roles, including Director of Alcohol and Drug Dependence Services, and non-clinical positions such as Director of the Rural Health Policy Unit and a period as an assistant regional director, Dr Bolton resolved to return to clinical practice.

“You can understand why I had more than a passing interest in palliative care, so I decided to follow that up and went and saw the Director of Palliative Care at Mt Olivet. Mt Olivet provided clinical fellowships, whereby ex-GPs or other doctors with a special interest in palliative care, could work and train on the staff of the hospital for a period of six months.

“I started work at Mount Olivet Hospital in May 1995 and I have continued to work in palliative care since that time. I was at Mt Olivet for 13 years until New Year’s Day 2008, when I started locum work in palliative medicine.”

Dr Bolton says he was deeply honoured to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 annual Palliative Care in Queensland dinner.

The recognition also meant a lot for his family including his wife of 53 years, Judy, and their three  children: Samantha, who is a deputy principal at a Brisbane high school; Sarah, who is an oncology nurse; and son Simon who works in banking.

“I feel quite humbled [by the award] because there are many people in Queensland who would be at least as, if not more, deserving of it for the major contributions they have made to palliative care in Queensland – really there are. So, I was very honoured and it was lovely to be nominated.”

Dr Bolton encourages people to nominate those working in palliative care for this year’s awards.

Nominations are now open for team and individual categories including:

  • Outstanding Teamwork
  • Innovation in Palliative Care (team)
  • Emerging Leader
  • Emerging Researcher
  • Excellent in Palliative Care – rural and remote
  • Excellence in Palliative Care in an aged care setting
  • Outstanding achievement by a volunteer
  • Changemaker award
  • Palliative Care Service of the Year Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award

Nominations close on October 1 and winners will be announced at a gala dinner following the annual summit at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on December 1.

For more information about the summit and to nominate for the awards, go to

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