End of life care

What end of life care involves

End of life care is support for people who are approaching death. It helps them to live as well as possible until they die, and to die with dignity. It also includes support for their family or carers.

End of life care includes palliative care. If you have an incurable illness, palliative care will make you as comfortable as possible by controlling pain and other distressing symptoms, while providing psychological, social and spiritual support for you and your family or carers. This is called a holistic approach, as it deals with the "whole" person rather than just one aspect of care.

You may receive palliative care early in the course of your illness, together with other therapies to treat your condition, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, before you are considered to be nearing the end of your life.

In this end of life care guide, "end of life care" also covers legal issues, such as creating a lasting power of attorney, so that the person or people of your choice can make decisions about your care if you are no longer able to do so.

Who provides end of life care?

Many healthcare professionals can be involved in providing end of life care, depending on your needs.

Hospital doctors and nurses, your GP, community nurses, hospice staff and counsellors might all be involved, as well as social services, religious ministers, physiotherapists or complementary therapists.

Most hospitals have special palliative care teams who co-ordinate all these services. As a patient, you have the right to choose where you want to receive care and where you want to die.

A palliative care team can provide end of life care to patients and their families in hospitals, care homeshospices and at home.

When does end of life care begin?

When end of life care begins depends on your needs.

The General Medical Council considers patients to be approaching the end of life when they are likely to die within the next 12 months.

This includes patients who are expected to die within the next few hours or days, and those with advanced incurable conditions. It can also include people who have: 

  • general frailty and co-existing conditions that mean they are likely to die within 12 months
  • existing conditions, if they are at risk of dying from a sudden crisis in their condition
  • life-threatening acute conditions caused by sudden catastrophic events, such as an accident or a stroke

End of life care may last a few days, or for months or years, beginning and ending when you need it.

This guide also contains information about planning ahead for your future care.


Page last reviewed: 15/09/2014

Next review due: 15/09/2016


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

Pizzleism said on 10 March 2014

@User835378: Have you considered calling the Macmillan service, or having a look at their website? Macmillan provide a fantastic comprehensive web resource which can give patients and their family information on all aspects of cancer from the type of cancer your father may have and the symptoms he may be experiencing to help with practical aspects of cancer care such as getting financial help and dealing with the psychological stress of illness and coming to terms with the diagnosis.

The advice you get here may be useful in future consultations with your GP, who should have access to the relevant specialists who can help you further. From the small insight into your situation I've got it seems to me that it's the lack of information, communication and social support that is causing you all the most hardship, so maybe if you took any questions you had to your GP this could direct the consultation and you can (hopefully) find the help and support you need.

I hope this information is helpful. Best wishes in what must be an immensely challenging time for both of you.

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User835378 said on 15 January 2014

My father was diagnosed with cancer of the gullet in october last year, shortly afterwards my mother died. He is very frail and lives alone but from that point of diagnosis he has not been seen by the consultant and had no follow up. Because of underlying conditions he cannot have any treatment and is now finding it difficult to eat partly because he cant swallow easily anymore. He appears to have no desire to eat. A care plan was in place because he had got so frail, he cant climb stairs easily, they were going to install a stairlift, it didnt happen. He had a fall and was admitted to hospital and was supposed to get a bed on the macmillan ward, that didnt happen. He is about to be discharged from hospital and his care plan will need to be agreed again because when he was admitted the care plan in place ceases and it all has to start again. My father needs palliative care, he isnt getting it, and the social worker has indicated the only option will be for him to go to a care home. He is reluctant to leave his home to go into a care home because his memories of my mother who died so suddenly after he was diagnosed are all in that house. He is in Northern Ireland and it would appear that because he is an 85 year old man with terminal cancer he doesnt matter., especially to the consultant who diagnosed him who has never spoken to him about his illness or the family for that matter. We as a family have no idea what to do we are at a loss and the minimal advice we have from the hospice nurse and the district nurse and the GP is not enough.

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