What is Hospice Care?

What is hospice care?

Here in the UK almost half of people spend their final days in hospital yet the majority of us say we would prefer to die in our own home or, increasingly, a hospice. A hospice provides end of life care for after you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, which includes practical advice and support for your family, too. This support can be given in a hospice itself or at your home. Here we look at what hospice care involves, and how to let those around you know you’d like hospice care at the end of life. 

How is a hospice different to a hospital?

The aim of a hospice is to improve the quality of life for those who have a terminal illness. Many people choose to die in a hospice because of the importance placed on comfort and dignity.

Most hospices are run on the grounds that a person’s individual needs are cared for, from pain relief to the more therapeutic side of things, as well as providing support and advice for the people close to you.

Hospices are often calm places, decorated to be more homely than the usual pristine coldness of a hospital. While the facilities differ between hospices, most offer more flexible arrangements than a hospital would. Visiting times, meal times and treatment times are discussed with you or your family. Some hospices allow relatives to visit at any time or stay overnight, if they wish to.

How long do people stay at a hospice?

Hospices provide care at the point from which you are diagnosed with a terminal illness to the end of life, however long that may be – from a few days or weeks to months. Or, you can use a hospice at a much earlier stage of your illness for pain relief, help and support.

Hospice care doesn’t need to be continuous, either. Some people like to take a break from hospice care if their condition becomes stable, they’re feeling well or even if they would like to live out their very last days at home.

It’s also good to know that hospice care doesn’t just take place inside a hospice centre. Your local hospice can offer support in your own home on a day-to-day basis, or you can be visited in a care home.  

What does hospice care cover?

The support offered will vary between hospices, but across all hospices basic end of life care will be given – this mostly involves controlling pain and other symptoms.

A hospice may also offer:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • 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
  • Psychological help, including counselling

When can you get hospice care?

While hospices provide care for those who are likely to die soon, many people go to a hospice just for the day for a range of outpatient and day services.

You may be referred to a hospice at any point during an illness. So while you can go into a hospice for a few days or weeks for care towards the end of their lives, many others attend a hospice at much earlier stages of their illness. This might be to get emotional support or pain relief, as well as help and advice for their family members.

If you choose to die at home, you might go into a hospice so that your family or carers can have a break from looking after you for a short while. This is called respite care.

What kinds of hospice are there?

More than 200 hospices in the UK offer free care to people with cancer and other illnesses. Your GP, specialist cancer nurse or Marie Curie nurse can tell you more about hospice care and hospices in your area. They should point you towards hospices which offer services that meet good standards of palliative care.

On average adult hospices in the UK receive a third of their income from the Government, with the rest coming from community fundraising, hospice charity shops, hospice lotteries and investments. If you find a hospice you like the look of, be sure to check whether their are any fees, especially if you haven’t been referred by a GP.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence sets out the guidelines to the good practice involved in end of life care. Make sure to have a look at our article on dying at home, too, to get a sense of what you should expect.

Hospices are becoming increasingly popular

A recent study carried out by Marie Curie into the problems nurses face when giving end of life care showed that many hospices were starting to reach out to hospitals to work together to improve care. Some people are deciding to go into a hospice over receiving support in a hospital, due to the more homely aspects of hospices and the strained services of local hospitals.

To find a local hospice:

Finally, take a look at our planning page to get you started thinking about your death and the options you have.

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