End of life care

Hospice care

The aim of hospice care is to improve the lives of people who have an incurable illness.

Hospices provide care for people from the point at which their illness is diagnosed as terminal, to the end of their life, however long that may be. 

Hospice care places a high value on dignity, respect, and the wishes of the person who is ill, and aims to look after all their needs.

Hospice care provides for medical, emotional, social, practical, psychological, and spiritual needs, as well as the needs of the person’s family and carers. Looking after all these aspects is often referred to as holistic care.

Care also extends to those people who are close to the patient, and into the bereavement period after the patient has died.

What is hospice care like?

Hospices aim to feel more like a home than hospitals do. They can provide individual care more suited to the person, in a gentler and calmer atmosphere than a hospital. They are run by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, counsellors, and trained volunteers.

Hospices may have beds for people who are being cared for in the hospice itself, and the hospice team can also provide hospice care to people at home, in a care home or in hospital. Hospice care is a style of care, rather than something that takes place in a specific building.

What does hospice care cover?

Hospices vary, but your local hospice will offer medical and nursing care, including control of symptoms such as pain. It may also offer: 

  • physiotherapy
  • complementary therapies, such as massage 
  • rehabilitation (helping you build up your health and strength, for example through exercise)
  • respite care (giving your carers a break from caring for a while)
  • information about financial and other practical issues
  • bereavement care
  • spiritual and psychological help

Most hospices will be happy to show you around their facilities if you are considering hospice care. The staff will be able to discuss any issues with you and answer questions.

When does hospice care start?

Some people think that you only go into a hospice when you are dying, but this is not true. You might go into a hospice for a few days early on in your illness to help control symptoms such as pain or breathlessness, and then go home again. Or you might go into the hospice so that your family or carers can have a break from looking after you for a short while. This is called respite care.

Some people have a number of periods of hospice care, depending on their condition and their wishes.

Hospice care is free of charge. You can contact a hospice directly yourself, but the team will usually also ask for a referral from your doctor or nurse. Hospice places are limited, but you can contact your local hospice to see what is available.

For an example of what hospice care is like, see life at the Hospice of St Francis.

How can I find a local hospice?

To find a local hospice:

healthtalk.org has interviews with people talking about their experiences of hospice in-patient care and hospice day care.

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2014

Next review due: 11/09/2016


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