Objective: People with advanced cancer who may benefit from specialised palliative care (SPC) do not necessarily access such services. Methods: To obtain a deeper understanding of issues affecting access to SPC, five focus groups were undertaken with nurses (35), physicians (three), allied health professionals (seven) and an academic involved in providing care. Results: Thematic analysis revealed that palliative care providers consistently view palliative care as a broad holistic approach to care benchmarked on good symptom management. Whilst participants themselves perceived SPC as aiming to maximise the quality of life of the patient and family across all domains of care, they perceived that some health professionals and community members viewed palliative care largely as symptom control and terminal care for access after all disease-modifying treatment has been exhausted. Concern was expressed that such misconceptions were an important barrier to timely SPC. Participants did not nominate a time or particular milestone in the disease process which should prompt referral and suggested that SPC be available at any time where needs are complex and/or are not being met. Conclusion: Failure to properly recognise and understand the breadth of care provided within the palliative care framework may result in people with advanced cancer and their caregivers not accessing SPC services or accessing them too late to receive maximum benefit. Education may be required to promote the holistic nature of SPC services amongst health professionals and the community and to help realise the potential benefits to patients, families and health professionals resulting from timely access to SPC services. �� 2010 Springer-Verlag.