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Many people with cancer who go into hospital need support when they’re discharged.
This section covers:
If you need practical help, equipment at home or nursing care, there are many people who can help you and your family.
We also have information and advice for carers of people with cancer|.
You should only be discharged from hospital:
You may go to the home of a relative or friend when you first leave hospital. The following information still applies in this situation.
The type of support needed will vary from person to person. You may need help with some of the following:
Usually a ward nurse or your key worker will coordinate the plans for your discharge. A key worker is a healthcare professional - often a nurse - who is your main contact and source of support during your stay in hospital.
Your nurse or key worker will involve other healthcare professionals as necessary when planning your discharge. For example, if you need to have stitches taken out after you’ve gone home, they can arrange for a district nurse to visit you to do this.
You may need ongoing care from a number of different organisations and healthcare professionals. If you do, a liaison nurse, nurse discharge coordinator or assessment officer will manage the arrangements for when you go home.
It can take several days to plan a discharge, especially if a number of different services need to be arranged.
The care that’s planned for when you go home will depend on your particular needs. It’s important that you and your relatives or carers are involved as much as possible in these plans.
While you’re in hospital, the healthcare professionals looking after you will make a plan for your discharge - often called a discharge plan. They’ll ask you questions so they can assess your needs and find out what support you may need when you go home. These questions may include:
If you have any concerns - for example, about how you’ll manage at home or even get home - tell the nurses or your key worker as early on in your hospital stay as possible. This will help them plan your discharge home. If you have a clinic appointment before your admission to hospital, you can also raise your concerns at this appointment.
If you have relatives or carers who will be involved in your care, it’s important that they’re also involved in your discharge planning. Caring can be hard work, both physically and emotionally, and your carers may need help to support them in their caring role when you go home. People sometimes feel guilty about being a burden to their relatives or friends, but remember that support from other services means your carers will have the help they need to care for you.
District nurses work closely with GPs and can make regular visits to patients and their families at home. They provide help, advice and support with the practical aspects of nursing care, including wound dressings, flushing of central lines, injections, taking stitches out and helping with managing stomas, catheters or feeding tubes.
However, not everyone will need district nursing help. For example, if you’re fit enough to attend your GP surgery to see a practice nurse to have stitches taken out or a wound dressing, you won’t need a district nurse visit.
District nurses can also arrange for you to have certain equipment, such as a commode, bedpan, urine bottle or a special mattress, at home if you need it. They can assess your care needs when you’re at home and refer you for help from other healthcare professionals, if needed. In some areas, district nurses can visit in the evening and at night time.
If you need district nursing support, your ward nurse or discharge coordinator will contact your local district nursing service before you go home to arrange a home visit. They’ll also send the district nurse information about your care in hospital.
You may need advice about adaptations to your home or extra equipment that will make it easier for you to manage. This may include a shower seat, a raised toilet seat, handrails or a stair lift. If you need these adaptations or equipment, you’ll be assessed by an occupational therapist (OT) while you’re still in hospital. The ward nurse, your key worker or a liaison nurse can arrange for the occupational therapist to visit you.
The occupational therapist may need to visit your home to assess your needs. This may take place either with you or with your relative or carer. Sometimes the hospital occupational therapist will ask a community-based occupational therapist to carry out this assessment. Once the OT has assessed your needs, they’ll arrange any equipment you need for when you go home. If you need any adaptations to your home, these may take a while to organise. As long as it’s safe for you to go home without the adaptations, you may be discharged on the basis that they’ll be carried out when you’re home.
While you’re in hospital, you may be referred to a hospital social worker, care manager or assessment officer if you need help with:
If you need several of these services or regular daily help with personal care, the social worker may suggest setting up a care package for you. This simply means that all of the different types of care you need will be organised for you.
In some areas of the country, your social worker can also organise home services to help with domestic chores, such as cleaning. You may have to pay for these services yourself depending on your savings or income, which will be assessed by social services.
A social worker can also tell you about any benefits you may be able to claim while you’re ill. For example, you may be entitled to Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or help with hospital fares. They may also be able to help arrange childcare during and after treatment or arrange help with the cost of childminders.
Our section with financial information explains the benefits and allowances you may be entitled to and has information for other sources of financial support.
If you are likely to need help with managing any symptoms| caused by your cancer, your hospital doctor, nurse or key worker may suggest referring you to a community specialist palliative care team. These teams are usually linked to local hospices and have palliative care nurses who can visit you at home. They’re experienced at assessing and controlling the symptoms of cancer, and they also provide emotional support for you, your family or your carers.
Depending on your needs, your community palliative care nurse can also arrange for you to attend a day centre if your local hospice has one. If you need and agree to a palliative care nurse visiting you when you go home, your hospital team can arrange this.
In some areas, palliative care nurses are known as Macmillan nurses. However, many Macmillan professionals are nurses who have specialist knowledge in a particular type of cancer, and they often work in the hospital rather than visiting someone at home.
Other nurses who can care for you at home are Marie Curie| nurses. They help care for people who are no longer having active treatment and want to stay in their own homes. They can provide nursing care during the day and, more usually, overnight. Your district nurse will assess whether you need a Marie Curie nurse and check if a nurse is available to care for you.
If you have problems with getting around while you’re in hospital, you'll be referred to a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist will assess your needs and work with you to improve your mobility before you go home. If you need to have mobility aids (such as a walking frame) when you go home, they can also organise this.
If your physiotherapist feels that you will still need physiotherapy when you go home, they can arrange for you to have an outpatient appointment with them at the hospital. Occasionally they may arrange for you to have community physiotherapy if needed.
Some people need emotional support as well as practical help. The impact of cancer can lead to depression, feelings of helplessness or anxiety. There is specialist help available if you need help coping with these emotions. Many people find it easier to talk to someone who’s not directly involved with their illness.
If you would like to be referred to a counsellor, speak to your nurse or doctor about this before you’re discharged. They can arrange for you to be referred to a doctor, counsellor or social worker who specialises in the emotional problems that affect people with cancer.
We have more information about coping with the emotional effects of cancer|.
When you leave hospital, you may be given a letter to give to your GP. This will tell your GP about your hospital treatment and future care needs, including any medicines you’re taking and any changes to them. You should make sure your GP gets this letter as soon as you can. If you’re not given a letter to take with you, your hospital team should have contacted your GP before you were discharged. You may want to check this with your hospital team.
Before you leave hospital, you should be given telephone numbers for your hospital team in case you need to contact them. If you need ongoing medical support or advice, you may be asked to phone the hospital or make an appointment to see your GP. It’s important to follow this advice.
If you need any medicines when you go home, your hospital doctors will arrange for you to have a 1-2 week supply. If you’re given medicine that you need to continue taking, you’ll need to ask your GP for a repeat prescription.
Most medicines are given as a repeat prescription by your GP, but some drugs, such as chemotherapy drugs, may only be prescribed by your hospital doctors.
GP surgeries may require up to 48 hours' notice for repeat prescriptions, so it’s important to ask for your repeat prescription before your medicine runs out.
If you struggle with knowing what drugs to take and what time of the day you need to take them, you may find it easier to use a pill organiser/dosette box or to have your medicines dispensed in a calendar blister pack.
Pill organisers/dosette boxes have compartments for the day and time when your medicines should be taken. They can be bought from most pharmacies. You or a relative or friend will need to fill the pill organiser with your medicines.
Calendar blister packs come pre-prepared by the pharmacy and include the day and time when the medicine should be taken on the pack. Talk to your hospital team if you think that a pill organiser/dosette box or calendar blister pack will be helpful for you when you go home.
Prescriptions are free in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If you live in England and are having treatment for cancer, or the effects of cancer or its treatment, you are eligible for free prescriptions. To apply for free prescriptions, you will need to ask your GP to fill in a form (form FP92A), which you can collect from your GP surgery or oncology clinic.
After being discharged from hospital, some people find it really helpful to talk to others in a similar situation. Joining a support group| for people affected by cancer can give you or your carers the chance to talk to others who can understand what you’re going through.
Our online community| is a site where you can chat to people in our chat rooms, blog your experiences, share your own thoughts and feelings, make friends and join support groups.
Content last reviewed: 1 August 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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