Help from family or friends

Family or friends may be able to help you with looking after the person you care for. Some people may offer to help. Others might not know how to ask you, or what to do. Or they may not realise how much help you need.

Think about who you could ask and what tasks they can do. Try and talk openly about what you are doing, and how they can help.

Sharing care with family or friends means that you have time to look after yourself, as well as the person you are caring for. It can help family and friends understand your situation better.

Getting help from other people also benefits the person you are caring for. It gives them the chance to spend time with others. They may be relieved that you are getting the support you need.

Remember that friends and family might want to do things differently to you. Make sure you involve the person you are caring for and try to agree on who does what.

How to get started

You can start by:

  • making a list of daily activities you may need help with, such as hospital appointments, or taking children to school
  • asking people what they can do to help
  • asking people how much they can help.
  • Ways that people can help you

    People may want to help by:

    • cooking or making extra meals you can freeze
    • doing household jobs like cleaning, washing or looking after the garden
    • sitting with the person you are caring for, so you can have a break.
  • Ways that people can help the person you care for

    They can help the person you look after by:

    • taking them out
    • taking them to appointments
    • helping you with their personal care.
  • Sharing important information

    Make sure anyone who helps has the information they need. This could include details about what the person you look after prefers to eat, or the medicines they take. It is also important to make sure they have phone numbers of who to contact in case of problems.

  • Using a rota or a shared calendar

    You could create a record of:

    • who is helping
    • when they are coming
    • what they are doing.

    This can be very helpful if you do not live with the person you are caring for. But even if you do live together, it can help make the best use of everyone’s time.

    You might want to make a rota for the different days of the week and write in who will do each task. You could create a shared calendar on your phones so that everyone can see it and add details.

    Carers UK has an online and mobile app called Jointly, which you could use to co-ordinate who is doing what. Find out more and download it at

Support from health and social care professionals

When you care for someone, you will often have contact with health and social care professionals. They can give advice and support. They can also direct you to other services.

The person you care for may have a key worker at the hospital. This is often a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). This is their main contact for information and support. But you can also contact them for advice.

When the person you are caring for is diagnosed with cancer or having cancer treatment, you may meet a:

  • surgeon – a doctor who does operations (surgery)
  • oncologist – a doctor who treats people who have cancer
  • clinical nurse specialist (CNS) – a nurse who gives information about cancer, and support during treatment.

At other times you may also meet a:

  • GP – a local doctor who treats general medical conditions
  • district nurse – a nurse who gives advice and support to people by visiting them at home
  • social worker – someone who can help sort out practical and financial problems
  • physiotherapist – someone who gives advice about exercise and mobility
  • dietitian – someone who gives information and advice about food and food supplements
  • occupational therapist (OT) – someone who gives information, support and aids to help people with tasks such as washing and dressing.

It helps to write down the names and contact details of the professionals you meet. You can save them in your phone, if you have one.

Health and social care professionals need to have permission from the person you are caring for to share any information about them with you.

If the person you are caring for wants to give this permission, they can tell their cancer doctor, CNS or GP. They may give you a form to sign, or they may need it in writing such as an email or letter.

Talking to health and social care professionals

Talking to health and social care professionals can feel difficult when you are a carer. But it is important to know you have a right to talk to them. Tell them you are a carer so they can involve you. This is important for your wellbeing and the person you care for.

Here are some tips to help you get the most from the appointments you both go to:

  • Before you go to the appointment, talk to the person you care for about what they want to know so you both can ask questions. Also ask if there is anything they do not want to talk about.
  • Write notes during the appointment to help you remember what is said. Or record conversations on your phone, as long as everyone is happy for you to do this.
  • Ask professionals to explain anything that is not clear. Or ask them to repeat things if you missed information.
  • If the professional cannot help you with something, ask who you should contact.

It is important that you feel you can speak freely so that you both get the right support. You do not need to speak for the person you care for, but you can help the professional understand the situation better.

As a carer, your opinion matters. You are often the person who spends the most time with them. You might be able to tell the professional about changes in symptoms, or if treatments are helping.

Speaking up for the person you look after, and being listened to as a carer, can help you feel in control and supported. It is important for your own wellbeing.

Carers UK has more information about being heard when talking to professionals. It has guides for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We have more information about talking to healthcare professionals and about getting support to understand information.


If you find it difficult to talk to professionals, an advocate can help. They are independent of the NHS or adult social care services. They can:

  • support you during assessments and reviews
  • help you understand what the plan is for treatment or care
  • help you make decisions, or challenge decisions if you do not agree
  • talk to you about how you feel about assessments and decisions
  • help you understand your rights as a carer.

The adult social care service at your local council has information about advocates.

How different healthcare professionals can help

It may help to understand what different healthcare professionals do, and how they can support you as carer.

GP (general practitioner)

A GP may be the first healthcare professional you have contact with.

Tell the GP of the person you look after as soon as possible that you care for them so that they can support you too. They can:

  • give you information about NHS services, social services and voluntary services
  • advise you about their condition and support you so you feel more confident about looking after them
  • provide supporting letters and information for benefits, your local housing department or Blue Badge scheme.
  • arrange for them to go into hospital if they need to be admitted, or a hospice or nursing home if you need a break from caring (respite care).

We have more information about how the GP can support the person you look after at home.

Contacting the GP

If the person you look after has a new symptom or is unwell, you may need to see the GP.

If they are having cancer treatment, you may have been asked to contact an emergency 24-hour hospital number. You can also call their key worker, which is usually the clinical nurse specialist. It is very important to follow any advice the hospital team has given you.

If the condition of the person you look after seems to be getting worse, contact the GP, hospital or key worker straight away. The GP can give you advice by phone or arrange a home visit. GP surgeries provide a 24-hour service.

If you call a doctor when the surgery is closed, you are usually put through to an out-of-hours doctor. Keep the out-of-hours number in your phone or write it down.

In an emergency, you should call 999 for an ambulance.

District and community nurses

District nurses and community nurses work closely with GPs. They visit patients and carers at home. The GP or hospital staff may contact your local district nursing service to arrange a home visit. 

A district nurse or community nurse will assess the healthcare needs of the person you look after. 

We have more information about how district and community nurses can support the person you look after at home

Other healthcare professionals

  • Palliative care team

    The person you are caring for may need specialist help with cancer symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath. Their GP, hospital doctor, nurse or key worker can refer them to a community palliative care team.

    These teams include specialist nurses and doctors who specialise in controlling symptoms and giving emotional support. We have more information about how a palliative care team can support the person you look after at home.

  • Healthcare professionals to support you and the person you care for

    There are other healthcare professionals that can help support you and the person you look after such as a pharmacist, psychologist or counsellor, or continence advisor.

    We have more information about how different healthcare professionals can support the person you look after at home. We also have information about getting emotional help and support.

  • Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacist

    A Boots Macmillan pharmacist may also be able to help if you may have some questions about medication. We have more information about finding a Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacist near you.

Planning and organising care

Some of these health and social care professionals will be involved in planning the care and support of the person you look after. They should talk to you to find out what help and support you need to look after the person you care for.

Going home from hospital

If the person you look after is in hospital, help and support is usually arranged before they go home. Tell the healthcare team that you are a carer, so that you can be part of the plans for going home. They may have a discharge planning meeting. They may invite:

  • the person you look after, and you as their carer
  • the doctor in charge of their care
  • specialist nurses
  • an occupational therapist (OT)
  • a social worker.

We have more information about what might happen when the person you look after is going home from hospital.

Discharge assessment and discharge plan

The hospital staff should contact the hospital discharge team or adult social care services to arrange a discharge assessment for the person you look after.

They may visit them in hospital, or they might visit the house of the person you look after to find out what help and support is needed. Then they can make the plan. This might be called a discharge plan. The person you look after should be given a copy.

Before the person you look after leaves hospital, the hospital team should check that:

  • they have transport to get home
  • they can get in
  • someone will be there, if needed
  • they have the medicines they need and information about how to take them.

The hospital team will send a discharge letter to their GP. This describes why they were in hospital, their treatment and the follow-up plan.

If there is anything you are concerned or not sure about, talk to the healthcare team. They may suggest a carer’s assessment to make sure you are getting the help and support you need.

Holistic needs assessment

The person you look after might also have a holistic needs assessment (HNA). This is a separate assessment to find out what help and support a person with cancer needs. It can be done on paper, or online. The online version is called an eHNA.

HNAs are often done at key moments, such as at cancer diagnosis or at the end of treatment. But they can be done at any point, when needed. 

After the assessment, they make a personalised care and support plan. This should help address the concerns and provide details of other services that might be able to help. 

The person you look after and their GP should get a copy of the plan. If the person you care for is not offered an HNA, you can ask someone from their healthcare team about it.

Care and support plans

Care and support plans are for anyone who needs care, or for anyone that looks after someone else. They are an agreement between:

  • you
  • the person you look after
  • their health and social care professionals.

To get a care and support plan, contact the local council adult social care service. They will arrange:

  • a needs assessment for the person you look after
  • a carer’s assessment for you.

If you do not want a carer’s assessment, the council can still give you information on getting support.

A care and support plan for the person you look after should include:

  • the type of support needed
  • how this support will be given
  • how much money the council will spend on their care.

This means the person you look after can:

  • stay as independent as possible
  • have as much control over their life as possible
  • do the things they enjoy
  • know what type of care is right for them
  • understand their health condition and care needs better.

It also helps you and others involved in their care understand how you can help.

It is important you understand everything in the care plan. If you are not sure about anything, ask. If the person you look after is offered care from other people, check whether there are any costs to pay. The care plan should be reviewed over time to make sure it still meets the needs of both you and the person you care for.

After your examination, your doctor or nurse will tell you what tests you need:

  • Carer's assessment

    A carer’s assessment might recommend that you get help with managing the practical tasks at home. It may also list benefits that you are eligible for, and local support groups for carers.

    The care and support plan should include the details of the care you will provide, and the support you need to:

    • carry out this care
    • stay in work or education
    • have free time to relax.

    The plan should be reviewed over time to make sure it still meets your needs.

    If you are unhappy about care provided by a care agency, then talk directly with them first. If social services have arranged your ongoing care, you can also talk with a social worker at your local social services department.

    We have more information about getting a carer's assessment.

    Age UK has more information on raising concerns or making a complaint.

  • Respite and replacement care

    It can sometimes recommend someone that can help take over caring for a while so you can take a break. This is called respite care and can vary depending on your situation.

    Respite care includes:

    • someone who can sit with the person you care for
    • care in a day care centre
    • a carer coming to the house
    • a short stay in a care home.

    It should also have a plan for if you are unable to look after the person you care for because you:

    • are returning to work or education
    • are unwell
    • have an emergency.

    This is called replacement care. You should check if there would be any costs involved in respite or replacement care. 

Support from local carers' organisations

Your local carers' organisation may have services to support you such as advice workers or support groups. The Carers Trust has information about support in your area.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our looking after someone with cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Supporting adult carers committee. Supporting Adult Carers: NICE guideline [NG150] Published: 22 January 2020. Available from (accessed May 2022)

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. People's experience in adult social care services committee. People's experience in adult social care services: improving the experience of care and support for people using adult social care services: NICE guideline [NG86] Published: 20 February 2018. Available from (accessed May 2022)

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 April 2023
Next review: 01 April 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.