Taking a break from caring (respite care)

It is important to take a break from caring sometimes. This means letting someone else care for the person you look after for a while.

What is respite care?

It is important to take a break sometimes. This means letting someone else care for the person you look after for a while. This is called respite care. 

You need to take time to look after your own wellbeing to stop you becoming physically and emotionally tired.

Different types of respite care

You might have regular respite care, so that you can spend time doing other things each week. Or it might be for a longer time, so that you can visit friends and family or go away on holiday. Respite care options include:

  • sitting services
  • day centres
  • short stays in a hospice, hospital, residential home or nursing home.

Sitting services

You might be able to arrange for someone to sit with the person you look after. This could be a morning, afternoon or evening. Sometimes they can stay overnight. 

Sitters may also help with housework, or personal care such as washing and dressing. Charities such as Carers Trust offer sitting services.

Day centres

The local hospice or hospital may run a day centre for people with cancer. They often provide lunch and transport to the centre. Some centres offer other services, such as activities and complementary therapies. 

Short stays

There may be times when you feel you need a longer break. Your GP, social worker, district nurse or palliative care nurse may be able to arrange for the person you look after to stay somewhere. This may be in a residential or nursing home. Nursing homes provide nursing care.

Taking a break is a decision you need to make with the person you look after. It can be good for you both. During respite care, you can take a complete break or continue to visit the person you look after.

You can plan the break together. For reassurance, you may both want to visit the home and talk to the staff. You could take other family or friends as well. 

Residential and nursing homes

Residential homes or nursing homes give different levels of care. A social worker, GP or district nurse can explain the difference. They can:

  • tell you about local residential and nursing homes, and what care they give
  • suggest things to think about when choosing a residential or nursing home
  • help arrange this type of care.

Details of local residential or nursing homes are available from the adult social care department of your local council. They can tell you about the costs involved.

Before a stay in a residential or nursing home, it is important that adult social care assess you. There can be extra costs involved that you did not expect. Charities such as Age UK can offer independent advice about finding and paying for residential or nursing homes.

If the person you care for needs a lot of ongoing care, and has complicated and serious medical needs, they may be able to get NHS Continuing Health Care (CHC). This is paid for by the NHS. Your health and social care team can tell you about this.

Before you choose a residential or nursing home, it can help to talk to others who have had recent experience of the homes you are considering.

The standard of care in residential or nursing homes and care agencies across the UK is checked by the Care Quality Commission. You can read the most up-to-date report on their website. Or ask the health and social care team if they can get it for you.

Hospice care

Hospices specialise in managing symptoms, including pain and shortness of breath. They are smaller and quieter than hospitals. They feel less clinical and more like home. Many have sitting rooms and space for family members to stay overnight.

Most people think of hospices as somewhere people go at the very end of their life. But hospices also offer short periods of care to help with symptoms (palliative care). Sometimes a hospice might offer respite care, if the person you look after has symptoms that need managing too.

Your GP, district nurse, specialist palliative care nurse or social worker may suggest that the person you look after goes to a hospice if they think it is suitable. Hospice care is always free.

You may feel upset and worry they might not be able to come home again. But after having their symptoms managed, they may be well enough to come home.

The person you look after may have already told you that they want to be cared for in a hospice at the end of their life. They may have written down what they want in an advance statement.

You can both visit the hospice to talk about this and ask questions. This can help you both feel reassured, plan for the future and help you talk to friends and family.

Some hospices may have a short waiting list.

We have information about making decisions and caring for someone at the end of their life.

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  cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Supporting adult carers committee. Supporting Adult Carers: NICE guideline [NG150] Published: 22 January 2020. Available from www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng150 (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 www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng86 (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.