A lot of people are worried about the idea of a hospice and think they are only for people at the very end of life. In fact, they offer a range of supportive services for all stages of cancer both within and beyond the hospice building.
Many people are admitted to hospices for one to two weeks to get more intensive symptom control before returning home again.
It may also be daunting to hear the words 'palliative care', but this is simply the holistic and total care of someone who is living with an advancing illness. The aim of palliative care is to maintain and improve your quality of life and offer support to you, your family and your friends during the course of your illness.
Where can I get this care?
Every area will have a local hospice or specialist palliative care service which works in the community, in hospitals and care homes. You may already have met a Macmillan, hospice or palliative care nurse who helped you with questions and worries during your treatment, but if you haven't, you can ask to be referred to your local team by your doctor, nurse or another healthcare professional. In many areas you can now also refer yourself whenever you feel you might need some extra support.
What is hospice care?
Hospice care values the whole (holistic) experience of a woman, and their family and friends - mind, body and spirit. There are many hospices around the UK and they are mainly independent charitable organisations working closely with your local health services.
Most hospices offer clinics with various professionals and day services where you can visit perhaps once per week, for a few hours. They also offer inpatient care where you can stay for a short period of time if you need to. It might be a good idea to find out what your local hospice offers even if you don't feel ready, or wish to use the services yet. Discover your local hospice.
What services do hospices and palliative care teams offer?
Specific services vary but all hospice teams will offer care such as pain and symptom control, advance or future care planning, psychological and social support. They will help you stay active and independent with physiotherapy and occupational therapy, arranging complementary therapies (such as massage, acupuncture or reflexology), spiritual care, practical and financial advice, and support in coming to terms with your future. They are often involved with education, training and research programmes. The services are usually provided by a variety of staff from highly trained professionals to experienced volunteers. All their care is provided free of charge and they may also be able to arrange transport for you to attend.
What is a hospice admission?
A hospice admission is when you may stay in the hospice for a few days for a variety of reasons. People often associate hospice admissions with dying, and of course some people choose to go to a hospice when they are near death, but many people come in and out of the hospice to receive treatments such as blood transfusions, to help manage their symptoms or to give those who are caring for them a short break. Hospices are often beautiful buildings, with light airy rooms and lovely gardens. Many people are frightened of the idea of hospice care, but once they have experiences it, they regret not meeting the team earlier.
Can I have palliative or hospice care at home?
Most areas have palliative care and hospice teams who work in the community. Your GP or Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) will be able to refer you to this team which often will have a palliative care medical consultant, a palliative care specialist nurse (CNS) and other professionals to support you. The palliative CNS will come and visit you at home to support you and help you manage your illness as well as provide support to your loved ones. They may see you in an outpatient clinic if you are well enough to attend.
There are also schemes such as Hospice at Home where nurses from the hospice or community team, or the Marie Curie charity, offer hands-on nursing care at home, particularly in the last weeks of life. Marie Curie nurses work nationwide and Hospice at Home services are now available in many areas.
If I get involved with the palliative care team or the hospice, will my consultant and GP be informed?
Yes, all the teams keep in close contact with each other. Your GP and hospital consultant's team remain your key contacts with the hospice and palliative care teams working in partnership with them. Your GP will also be able to talk to you about any additional practical support that may be available locally through social services. These vary from place to place, so ask your GP what help is available in your area.
The information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.
Last reviewed: May 2017
Next review: April 2020