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.

That doesn't mean hospice care needs to be continuous. People sometimes like to take a break from hospice care if their condition has become stable and they are feeling well.

Hospice care places a high value on dignity, respect and the wishes of the person who is ill. It aims to look after all their medical, emotional, social, practical, psychological, and spiritual needs, and 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, as well as into the bereavement period after the patient has died.

Where is hospice care provided?

Most hospice care is provided in your own home, but it can also be provided in a care home, as an in-patient at the hospice itself, or as a day patient visiting the hospice. Hospice care is a style of care, rather than something that takes place in a specific building.

Hospice teams include doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, counsellors and trained volunteers.

Hospices aim to feel more like a home than hospitals do. They can provide individual care more suited to the person who is approaching the end of life, in a gentler and calmer atmosphere than a hospital.

What does hospice care cover?

Hospices vary, but your local hospice will offer medical and nursing care, including controlling pain and other symptoms. It may also offer:

  • physiotherapy
  • occupational therapy
  • complementary therapies, such as massage
  • rehabilitation – helping you build up your health and strength, such as 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 talk to you about what they can offer or show you around their facilities if you are considering hospice care. The staff can discuss any issues with you and answer questions.

When does hospice care start?

Some people think that you only have hospice care when you are dying, but this is not true.

A hospice palliative care team might help control symptoms such as pain or breathlessness early on in your illness, with you staying at the hospice for a few days before going 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, paid for through a combination of NHS funding and public donation. You can contact a hospice directly yourself, but the team will usually also ask for a referral from your doctor or nurse. Places are limited, but you can contact your local hospice to see what is available.

How can I find a local hospice?

To find a local hospice:

Healthtalk.org has videos and written interviews of people talking about their experiences of hospice in-patient care and experiences of hospice day care.

Read more about what you can expect from end of life care.

Page last reviewed: 09/07/2015
Next review due: 09/07/2018