The care of patients whose illnesses cannot be cured places many stresses on health professionals (both generalist and specialist), and more importantly on patients and families. The complexities for all concerned in the process of referral to palliative care services should not be underestimated, however there is evidence that the referral process could be better handled by all health professionals. With greater understanding of the dynamics of care, the crisis of living with an incurable illness and dying can be lessened for patients. This article reports on a qualitative research project undertaken at a large metropolitan palliative care service and its referring public hospital. Patients and nurses were interviewed to identify issues relating to the care of patients and families newly referred to palliative care. The findings of this research identify themes in relation to the transition of patients from acute curative to palliative care services, e.g. pace and timing of the transition, fear and (mis)understanding, accepting palliative care, information and education on palliative care, and peer support and supervision for palliative care nurses.