Health and social care professionals

When you are in hospital you will meet different health care professionals. That may include:

  • an oncologist – a doctor who treats people who have cancer 
  • a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) – a nurse who gives information about cancer, and support during treatment 
  • a surgeon – a doctor who does operations (surgery)
  • a support worker – someone who works as part of a cancer care team to provide information and support for people living with cancer.

Before going home from hospital, other healthcare professionals may be involved in your care. It may help to understand what they do and how they may support you.

GP (general practitioner)

A GP is a local doctor who treats general medical conditions. They are responsible for your general healthcare. They may have been the first healthcare professional you had contact with.

GPs work closely with other healthcare professionals in the community such as practice nurses, district nurses and social workers.

Your GP can:

  • assess if your health has changed and do home visits if needed
  • help you manage side effects and symptoms
  • prescribe medicines and arrange repeat prescriptions
  • give information and support
  • organise district nurses, or specialist palliative care nurses, if needed
  • refer you to other health professionals, such as a physiotherapist or occupational therapist (OT).

Always tell your GP if you have been in hospital having treatment for cancer. It is important to let them know if you are still having chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or other cancer treatments.

Before you leave the hospital

  • Hospital discharge letter

    Your hospital doctor will send a letter called a discharge summary to your GP. The letter is usually sent electronically so that your GP gets it within 24 hours of your discharge. You are usually given a copy to take home with you.

    The letter will include information about

    • your diagnosis
    • the type of treatment you had in hospital
    • any medicines you are taking or any changes to your medication
    • the follow-up you may need.
  • Contact numbers

    You should also be given telephone numbers for your hospital team in case you need to contact them. We have a table that you could use to write their contact details in. Your hospital team will tell you what to look out for after you go home, and when to contact them directly. It is important to follow the advice you are given..

District and community nurses

District nurses and community nurses work closely with GPs. They visit people at home to provide advice and support for patients and support family members and carers.

Your ward nurse or keyworker may contact your local district nursing service before you go home to arrange a home visit. Not everyone needs this type of help. You may be well enough to go to your GP surgery to see a practice nurse, for example to have stitches taken out. If that happens, you will not need a district nurse visit.

A district nurse or a community nurse will assess your healthcare needs.

The district nurse can:

  • give information to you and your carer
  • provide support to keep you as independent as possible
  • help you manage your medicines at home
  • check on your temperature, blood pressure and breathing
  • give injections, change wound dressings or remove stitches
  • help with managing stomas, catheters, feeding tubes and central lines
  • give advice on eating well (nutrition), looking after skin and pressure areas, and bowel or bladder problems
  • refer you to other health or social care professionals you may need.

The district nurse can also arrange equipment to be delivered. They will show you how to use it safely. This includes a:

  • commode, if you have difficulty moving to the bathroom to use the toilet
  • special mattress, if you have difficulty moving, or you need to spend a lot of time in bed
  • bedpan, for going to the toilet in bed
  • hoist or sling, if you are unable to move to and from your bed, chair or commode
  • hospital bed.


Pharmacists can give you information and advice about medicines. You may meet them when you are in hospital, or in your local pharmacy after you go home. 

They know how medicines work, which drugs can be taken together safely and possible side effects. A pharmacist can:

  • suggest other ways to take your medication, if you are finding it difficult 
  • suggest other things to help, like organising medicines into boxes for different times of the day
  • deliver medicines to you at home 
  • get rid of medication you no longer need.

We have more information about taking your medicines.

Occupational therapist (OT)

You may have symptoms or side effects from your cancer or treatment. Symptoms such as fatigue or numb or tingling hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy) can make everyday tasks more difficult.

An occupational therapist (OT) can look at how you manage day-to-day activities. They may check to see if you need help with activities such as dressing, washing and cooking. They can suggest ways to help you. 

They can also arrange practical changes to make your home safe, comfortable and easy to live in. 

Needs assessment

Sometimes they need to visit your home to assess your needs. If this happens, it can be done with you, a family member or carer. Sometimes the hospital OT will ask a community OT to do this assessment when you go home.

After the assessment, the OT will give you information about adaptations, aids or equipment that might be right for you. If you agree, they can arrange any equipment you need.

Adaptations to your home can sometimes take a while. You may be discharged before these are done, but only if it is safe for you. 

The OT may think it would help for carers to come and help you with your personal care or preparing meals. They will refer you to a social worker who will organise this. 


If you have problems walking or moving around (mobility) while you are in hospital, you will be referred to a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist can assess your needs.

They can work with you to improve your mobility before you go home. The physiotherapist can also talk to you about moving around safely. They can give you information about how to prevent falls. They can help with exercises to:

If you need mobility aids such as a walking frame, they can also arrange this. Or they can give you advice about where to get them. 

If you need physiotherapy after going home, the physiotherapist can arrange an outpatient clinic appointment for you.

Your GP, or nurses in the community can arrange a referral to a physiotherapist. Some physiotherapists visit people at home.

Social services

A social worker is responsible for assessing what practical, financial and social help you need. They are also trained in offering emotional support.

A social worker may sometimes be called a care manager. While you are in hospital, you may be referred to a hospital social worker, care manager or assessment officer if you need help with:

  • preparing meals
  • personal care such as washing and dressing
  • finances.

If you are at home, you can request help yourself by contacting your local social services department. Find your local council on the website.


Cancer and its treatment can cause eating problems. If you have problems with your diet, your healthcare team can refer you to a dietitian. 

Qualified dietitians give information and advice about food and food supplements. They can provide advice on eating well when you have cancer or are having treatment. 

Some problems that dietitians may be able to help with include:

A dietitian can:

  • review your diet, including any cultural, religious or special dietary requirements 
  • talk to you, your family, or a carer about the food you may need when you go home
  • give you advice on which foods are best to help your recovery
  • provide food supplements if you need them, or ask your doctor to prescribe them
  • refer you to a community dietitian, who can visit you at home. 

We have more information about how cancer and its treatment can cause problems with eating.

Preparing meals

If you need help to prepare meals, your family or carers may be able to help. Or you can talk to your local adult social care department. A social worker may arrange meals provided at home. This is sometimes called meals-on-wheels.

This service usually has to be paid for. It may be provided by a private company or the local council. They can offer different meals to suit your cultural and religious needs, and any special dietary needs.

Continence adviser

If you are having problems with leakage (incontinence) from your bladder or bowel, it can be difficult to manage. It can also be upsetting for you.

Your district nurse will help with:

  • providing information on managing problems with leakage
  • supplying pads, urinary catheters or other equipment or aids
  • referring you to a continence adviser if you need it.

A continence adviser is a specialist nurse or physiotherapist who gives advice and support to people with continence problems. They can assess the problem and give you advice and information about aids to manage it.

Age UK has information on how you can get free incontinence products. You may also be able to get help with laundry services. You can get more information from:

  • National Key Scheme for toilets

    The National Key Scheme (NKS) offers disabled people access to locked public toilets across the UK. You can buy a Radar key for £5 (including postage and packaging) from Disability Rights UK. The website also has a list of NKS toilets in different regions..

  • Just Can’t Wait toilet card

    This card allows you to use toilets in shops, pubs and other places, without difficult or embarrassing questions. You can download the card to your mobile phone. The Bladder and Bowel Community has more information.

  • Macmillan toilet card

    We have a free toilet card to help you get urgent access to a toilet.

If you need specialist help with symptoms

Other teams can help manage your symptoms and make you more comfortable at home. 

  • Palliative care team

    A community palliative care team can provide specialist help with cancer symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath. Your GP, hospital doctor, nurse or key worker can refer you.

    These teams include specialist nurses and doctors who are experts in controlling symptoms and giving emotional support. The team can also include other specialist palliative care professionals such as:

    • an occupational therapist (OT)
    • a physiotherapist
    • a dietitian
    • a social worker.

    The team is usually based in a hospice, and will visit people who are being cared for at home. The team works closely with GPs, district nurses and other hospital services. Palliative care nurses help with symptom control and end-of-life care.

    As well as managing symptoms, palliative care teams also care for people who are close to the end of their life. We have more information about living with advanced cancer and end of life.

  • Macmillan nurses

    Macmillan nurses are specialist cancer nurses. They can help you to understand your cancer diagnosis and treatment options and support you through your cancer experience. They can also support the people close to you. They can be based in a hospital, in a hospice or in the community. 

    In hospital, they might specialise in a specific cancer. These nurses are called clinical nurse specialists (CNS). In a hospice or in the community, they help to manage symptoms and give emotional support. These specialist nurses are called palliative care nurses. Macmillan nurses do not usually give physical (hands-on) care.

  • Marie Curie nurse

    Marie Curie nurses provide free nursing care, usually during the last weeks of someone’s life. They can be specialist cancer nurses or palliative care nurses. They also provide support for carers and family. They can stay in your home overnight or part of the day, to give the person looking after you a break. They are usually arranged by the district nurse or palliative care team. Marie Curie nurses are not available in all areas. It may also depend on the local trust or health board.  

  • Private care

    Some people can get help at home from a private nurse. But this can be expensive. There are many private nursing agencies. You can ask the GP, district nurse or your local social services for advice. Look in your local phone book under ‘nursing agencies’ or search online. The Care Quality Commission can check the standards of care in nursing agencies. 

Voluntary organisations and charities

Voluntary organisations and charities can provide support to people at home. They can also help the people close to you. The help they offer includes:

  • information and support
  • lending aids and equipment
  • grants and other financial support and advice
  • respite care for carers, so they can take a break
  • counselling and support groups
  • transport services
  • befriending and practical help.

Your specialist nurse or keyworker should be able to tell you about local voluntary organisations and charities. You can also speak to our cancer support specialists for free on 0808 808 00 00.


You may need emotional support as well as practical help when you go home. You might feel worried or scared. It is natural to feel like this when you are not sure what is going to happen. 

You might get support from family members or friends. But you may find that certain feelings are hard to share with them. It can sometimes be useful to talk to someone who has been trained to listen. Counsellors and psychologists can help you explore your feelings and talk through confusing or upsetting emotions.

If you would like to be referred to a counsellor, speak to your specialist nurse, cancer doctor or GP about this before you go home. They can refer you to a doctor, counsellor or social worker who specialises in the emotional problems that affect people with cancer.

Support groups

After you come home from hospital, you might find it helpful to talk to others who have been through similar situations. 

You might find it useful to join a support group or online community. They can be a good option when you find it hard to talk to family members or friends. 

Joining a support group for people affected by cancer can give you and the people close to you the chance to talk to others who understand. The nurses in the hospital may be able to give you information about local support groups. 

We have more information about the different types of help available.

You may want to join an online support group or chat room for people affected by cancer. On our Online Community, you can speak to people in our chat rooms, talk about your experiences, share your thoughts and feelings, make friends and join support groups.

About our information

  • 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.