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End of life issues

Finding a hospice

Hospices specialise in care for terminally ill people and can offer carers a lot of support. Around a quarter of a million patients are cared for by hospices in the UK each year – either in a hospice or their own home. Some hospices were founded by Christian organisations, but hospice care meets the needs of people from all cultures and religions, as well as those with no faith. Some hospices specialise in palliative care for children.

Hospices provide palliative care to improve the lives of people whose illness is not curable. Care can include:

  • medical and nursing care
  • pain and symptom control
  • rehabilitation
  • therapies, including physiotherapy and complementary therapies
  • spiritual support
  • practical and financial advice
  • bereavement care for patients’ carers, families and friends

At some point, you may need to find a hospice for the person you're looking after. People are normally referred to a hospice by their GP or hospital doctor. Hospices are free and a person may be referred at any time between the diagnosis of an illness and the end of life.

A person is usually referred to the hospice palliative care service nearest their home. In special circumstances, out-of-area referrals may be considered.

The person you're looking after may be discharged from the hospice once they no longer need palliative care, but they can return if their condition changes.

Hospices also offer respite care, where the person you're looking after can stay for a short period of time, while allowing carers to have a break from their role.

Hospice care myths

There are many common myths and misconceptions about hospices. Part of the problem is that many people are reluctant to talk about illness and death, but understanding the reality of hospices can help clear up any confusion. This can then make it easier to organise care and make the most of the time at the end of someone's life. Here are some common myths about hospices: 

Myth: hospices are no different from hospitals

Hospices are usually smaller than hospitals and provide care for fewer people, who are either at the end of their life or have life-shortening illnesses.

Myth: hospice care can only happen in a hospice building

Some hospices have homecare teams. Find out if you can get palliative care from a hospice team in your own home.

Myth: hospices are where people go to die

While it's true that hospice care is for people with life-shortening illnesses, going to a hospice does not mean you're going there to die. Some people are referred to a hospice as soon as they have a diagnosis and may visit a hospice for many years for care or respite. The average length of stay in a hospice is 12 to 14 days.

Myth: hospices are depressing places for old people

Hospices care for people of all ages, including babies, and their families. They are designed to be comfortable, relaxing places. They usually offer creative activities, and those at a hospice will receive care that's tailored to their needs. Some hospices have accommodation for relatives, and some even have bars and entertainment facilities. 

Myth: hospices are expensive

Hospice care is always free. Some hospices are funded by the NHS and others by charities, but there's never a charge.

Myth: if you go to a hospice, you have given up

For some people, accepting that their illness is going to lead to death can be terrifying and painful. However, many people find comfort in knowing they're receiving appropriate care. Many hospices can support friends, family and carers, helping to take the pressure off them and allowing them to enjoy life more. 

Myth: you must have cancer to stay in a hospice

While most people who go to a hospice have cancer, hospices also care for people with other illnesses, such as liver disease, HIV and AIDSheart disease or emphysema. Marie Curie Nurses provide free nursing care to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses in their own homes.

Myth: you have to be religious to receive hospice care

While some hospices were founded by religious organisations or individuals, you don't have to follow any faith to receive care or respite.

Someone will usually be referred to a hospice by their GP, district nurse or someone else involved in their care. To search for a hospice, visit the Help the Hospices website


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Seranambia said on 22 June 2014

My father has a life limiting condition and wishes to spend some of his final days in hospice care but also wishes to have an occasional cigar which gives him pleasure and relieves stress better than other care services. Where can I find a hospice that provides a smoker friendly policy? My local hospices all have a no smoking policy which they cannot adjust to suit their patients. The NHS Choices website and the Help the Hospices website offer no help either. They all seem to have moved away from placing the patient first in the name of 'public health' which overrides the needs of individuals.

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sometimesitshard2bawoman said on 10 January 2014

you make this sound lie the norm. the fact is ittp is VERY difficult to find hospice accommodation. Only 4 single beds with very limited facilities for patients and even less to accommodate relatives is the reality where I live.

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Page last reviewed: 09/04/2014

Next review due: 09/04/2016

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