What is hospice care?
Hospice care aims to improve the lives of people who have an incurable illness, helping them to live as fully as they can for the time they have left. It cares for people from the point at which their illness is diagnosed as terminal up to the end of their life, however long that may be. This is often during the last six months of life, but hospices can provide care for much longer.
While palliative care is generally provided alongside ongoing treatment, hospice care is usually provided when a patient is no longer receiving any non-beneficial treatment.
Hospice care focuses on the needs and wishes of the individual. It's about looking after the whole person and takes care of your medical, emotional, social, practical, psychological and spiritual needs. This broad approach makes if right for many people. According to Hospice UK, around four in 10 people in need of expert end of life care receive support from hospices in the UK every year.
Hospices can also look after family members and carers over the course of an illness. They also provide bereavement support to families after a loved one has died.
What help do hospices offer?
Hospices bring together a wide range of support for people who may be approaching the end of their life, such as:
- pain and symptom control
- psychological and social support
- rehabilitation – helping patients to stay independent and continue to live their lives as they have done before
- complementary therapies, such as massage and aromatherapy
- spiritual care
- support for families and carers
- practical and financial advice
- respite care
- support in bereavement.
Where is hospice care provided?
Hospice care is a way of caring for people, rather than something that takes place in a specific building. The majority of hospice care is provided in community-based settings, including care at home, outpatient services and hospice day units.
If you do stay in a hospice, you’ll find the environment designed to feel more like a home, offering a gentler and calmer atmosphere than a hospital. Stays in a hospice bed are usually for a short period. For example, to help manage symptoms or for the last few weeks of life.
Staff involved with hospice care include doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, counsellors and trained volunteers. They work within the hospice setting and out in the community.
Is there a cost or is hospice care free?
Most hospice care is provided by charities. Their services are free for patients and their families. This applies to anyone who receives hospice care – no means test or financial assessment is required to qualify for free care.
However, it is important to be aware that not all end of life care costs are covered if you remain at home or go into a care home. If you are concerned about the costs, take a look at our article on financing end of life care to find out more about what it involves and what help is available.
While many hospices were originally started by faith-based organisations, they are open to people of any faith or none.
How do you qualify or get referred?
Hospice care is available to people with all sorts of life-limiting conditions, including cancer, heart failure, lung disease, dementia and Parkinson’s. People can seek hospice care at any stage of their illness, not just at the very end of their life.
Your GP or a hospital doctor would usually refer you for hospice care, or you may be referred by a community nurse. In deciding whether hospice care is right for you, your healthcare team will weigh up a number of things, such as:
- whether you have become physically incapacitated and would benefit from receiving advice and treatment in a hospice setting
- whether you would benefit emotionally from the kind of group support and companionship that hospices can offer
- whether it might be helpful to have counselling and other kinds of therapies at this point.
You can contact a hospice directly yourself, but they will usually also look for a referral from your doctor or nurse. Places are often limited, and not everyone who is referred to a hospice is able to get a place.
To find local hospices in your area:
- ask your GP or community nurse
- search for nearby hospices on Hospice UK’s online directory
- contact Hospice UK directly.
Palliative care helps people with incurable conditions achieve the best quality of life, for as long as possible.
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