What end of life care involves
End of life care is support for people who are in the last months or years of their life.
End of life care should help you to live as well as possible until you die and to die with dignity. The people providing your care should ask you about your wishes and preferences, and take these into account as they work with you to plan your care. They should also support your family, carers or other people who are important to you.
You have the right to express your wishes about where you would like to receive care and where you want to die. You can receive end of life care at home, or in care homes, hospices or hospitals, depending on your needs and preference.
People who are approaching the end of life are entitled to high-quality care, wherever they're being cared for. Find out what to expect from end of life care.
Who provides end of life care?
Different health and social care professionals may be involved in your end of life care, depending on your needs. For example, hospital doctors and nurses, your GP, community nurses, hospice staff and counsellors may all be involved, as well as social care staff, chaplains (of all faiths or none), physiotherapists, occupational therapists or complementary therapists.
If you are being cared for at home or in a care home, your GP has overall responsibility for your care. Community nurses usually visit you at home, and family and friends may be closely involved in caring for you too.
What is palliative care?
End of life care includes palliative care. If you have an illness that cannot be cured, palliative care makes you as comfortable as possible, by managing your pain and other distressing symptoms. It also involves psychological, social and spiritual support for you and your family or carers. This is called a holistic approach, because it deals with you as a "whole" person, not just your illness or symptoms.
Palliative care is not just for the end of life – you may receive palliative care earlier in your illness, while you are still receiving other therapies to treat your condition.
Who provides palliative care?
Many healthcare professionals provide palliative care as part of their jobs. An example is the care you get from your GP or community nurses.
Some people need additional specialist palliative care. This may be provided by consultants trained in palliative medicine, specialist palliative care nurses, or specialist occupational therapists or physiotherapists.
Palliative care teams are made up of different healthcare professionals and can co-ordinate the care of people with an incurable illness. As specialists, they also advise other professionals on palliative care.
When does end of life care begin?
End of life care should begin when you need it and may last a few days, or for months or years.
People in lots of different situations can benefit from end of life care. Some of them may be expected to die within the next few hours or days. Others receive end of life care over many months.
People are considered to be approaching the end of life when they are likely to die within the next 12 months, although this is not always possible to predict. This includes people whose death is imminent, as well as people who:
- have an advanced incurable illness, such as cancer, dementia or motor neurone disease
- are generally frail and have co-existing conditions that mean they are expected to die within 12 months
- have existing conditions if they are at risk of dying from a sudden crisis in their condition
- have a life-threatening acute condition caused by a sudden catastrophic event, such as an accident or stroke
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published guidance on the care of dying adults in the last days of life. This guidance covers how to manage common symptoms, as well as dignity and respect for the dying person, their relatives and carers.
How do I find out about end of life care services in my area?
If you are approaching the end of life, or caring for someone who is, and you want to find out about the care and support available, your first step is to speak to your GP or to call the number your healthcare professionals have given you.
Part of their job is to help you understand which services are available locally. You can ask about all sorts of help – for instance, there may be particular night-time services they can tell you about. You can also search for specific types of care services near you.
In this end of life care guide, "end of life care" also covers legal issues to help you plan ahead for your future care. These include creating a lasting power of attorney so the person or people of your choice can make decisions about your care if you are no longer able to do so yourself.
Video: getting the most from palliative care
In this video Lucy, who has a life-limiting condition, shares what she’s learned about palliative care.
Media review due: 1 November 2022
Getting the best out of palliative care - Joe and Melita's story
In this video, Melita and her husband Joe discuss how they turned to palliative care to make life more comfortable.
Media review due: 12 December 2021
Page last reviewed: 20 June 2018
Next review due: 20 June 2021