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. A hospice provides both palliative and end-of-life care for people in many different places, from care at home to within the hospice building itself, and also in a hospital or a care or nursing home.

Hospice care can start when an illness is first diagnosed as terminal and continues up to the end of life, however long that may be. Hospice care can also start when there is a high probability of a terminal diagnosis, such is where it is unclear if a treatment will work, or if someone is awaiting treatment they may not receive, such as a transplant.

The care is often given during the last six months of life, but hospices can provide care for much longer. Care in the inpatient department of a hospice is usually for the last few weeks of life.

Palliative care is generally provided alongside ongoing treatment, and end-of-life care usually starts when a patient is felt to be actively dying.

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. In 2021, Katharine House Hospice cared for around 800 people.

Hospices can also look after family members and carers over the course of an illness, including providing bereavement support to families after a loved one has died.

Many hospices were originally started by faith-based organisations, but they are open to people of any faith or none. Katharine House Hospice is no exception.

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 medical acupuncture
  • counselling
  • spiritual care
  • support for families and carers
  • practical and financial advice
  • support in bereavement.

Where is the care provided?

Hospice care is provided in various settings by most hospices. Much of the care is provided in patients’ homes through a community palliative care team or in the inpatient unit at the hospice.

The care of people living with an incurable illness is also supported through a day care service as well as in hospital through a hospital palliative care team - a group of specialist palliative care doctors, nurses and other professionals.

If you stay in an inpatient unit in a hospice, the environment is 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. Read more in our article about who provides palliative care?.

Is there a cost or is hospice care free?

All hospices in the UK are charities providing free care for patients and their families and friends and Katharine House Hospice is no exception. Although we work in partnership with the Oxford Universities Trust (OUH), we still need to raise £3 million each year to enable our services to continue.

However, it’s important to be aware that not all end-of-life care costs are covered if you remain at home or move to a care home. If you are concerned about the costs, read how to pay for end-of-life care to find out more about what help is available.

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