End of Life care and coronavirus

If someone is approaching the end of life, you may be worried about how coronavirus may affect their care. We also have information about funerals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus and the impact on End of Life care

The latest guidance about coronavirus

Updated Tuesday 11 May 2021

Restrictions are beginning to ease around the UK. However, it is important that you continue to follow the latest government advice for where you live in the UK.

Visit government websites for guidance on what you can and cannot do in:

As the vaccination programme continues to roll out, we understand that people with cancer and their friends and family will have a lot of questions. We have more information about different coronavirus vaccines.

If you or someone you know is approaching the end of life, you may be worried about coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it may affect your treatment or care.

Finding out you may be nearing the end of your life can be very difficult and distressing, both for your and those close to you. The additional worry about coronavirus may make an already difficult situation feel harder. We’re here if you need emotional help.

We have general information for people about cancer and coronavirus.

Information for people approaching the end of life

Do I need to do anything differently as someone who is approaching the end of life with cancer?

If you are at home, it is important to follow guidelines about staying at home and reducing the risk of spreading coronavirus.

The guidance varies in the different countries of the UK. 

In England the guidelines are about staying alert and controlling the virus. From Wednesday 13th May, you are able to be outside for longer and more often.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the guidance is still to stay at home and only go out for essential reasons. You can read more about the guidelines for each country:

The NHS also has information about coronavirus.

My family help look after me. Can they continue?

You may have family members that are your carers but they do not live with you. They can continue to visit you to provide essential care as long as they do not have any symptoms of coronavirus.

Essential care means things such as helping with washing or getting dressed, or help with medicines. They will need to follow the advice to reduce the risk of spreading the virus including washing their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds as soon as they arrive.

If they develop symptoms of coronavirus they will need to self-isolate and will not be able to visit you. Let your healthcare team know if this happens.  

You and your family member may find it helpful to make a plan for what to do if they are unable to care for you. This could include names and contact details of:

  • your main carer(s) 
  • who else can provide care for you if needed
  • your next of kin
  • your GP and other healthcare team names and their contact details.

You can also write down:

  • your illness
  • all your medication (what it is, what it is for, how often you take it, where you get your medical supplies from)
  • who has keys to your property (include their contact details)
  • any special needs you have – allergies, mobility needs, communication needs (for example if you need an interpreter)
  • any arrangements you have made to look after your children or pets
  • if you have a carers emergency plan registered with the local authority and the number to call
  • if you made have a power of attorney (see below)
  • if you have made an advance care plan (see below).

Make sure that this information is easy to find.

I have nurses and carers visiting me at home. Will they still visit?

There are government guidelines for health and social care providers who visit and care for  people at home. The different nations in the UK have their own guidelines. You can read the guidelines for:

You can contact the service who provides your care to see what services they can provide. Services are adapting to the situation on a daily basis so this may change depending on the number of staff available and the demand on their services. You may be offered telephone or video support rather than a face to face visit. This is to protect everyone from spreading infection.

Anyone coming to your home will follow strict hygiene practices and government precautions to protect both of you and reduce your risk of developing coronavirus. You must tell anyone visiting your home if anyone in your house has symptoms.

Will I still get my medication?

If you are on regular medication make sure you have a good supply. Contact your GP for a further prescription before you run out. You may not be able to get through on the phone so it may be better to email your surgery or order supplies online. Make sure people are aware you are a priority need as you are near the end of your life.

Many pharmacies have a delivery service and will be able to deliver your medications to your home. Boots can deliver prescriptions to people who are shielding or self-isolating. We've worked with Boots to remove delivery fees for people living with cancer.

Many areas and councils are setting up volunteer services to help with medicines and food deliveries. Contact your local council so they know your needs.

Remember your GP and pharmacies are likely to be very busy so allow plenty of time to get medicines organised.

What happens if I become unwell with coronavirus?

You need to tell your healthcare team as soon as possible if you develop symptoms that you think might be coronavirus. They will still be able to visit you but will need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). In some areas, there are teams being put in place who see only people who are coronavirus positive. But if you see someone from a different team, your own palliative care team will make sure they are aware of your medication and support needs. 

You need to follow government guidelines about staying at home if you develop symptoms. If you live on your own, you will need to stay at home and not go out for 7 days. If you live with other people those in your household will need to stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. You can read more here.

Some people with cancer are more at risk of becoming very unwell if they get coronavirus. You may want to talk to your healthcare team about what will happen in your situation if you become very unwell and need to go to hospital for treatment. 

Who makes decisions about my care?

If you have a terminal illness you may already have had conversations with your family and a health professional about your wishes for your future care. This is called advance care planning. These conversations are not easy but they can help ensure you get the care you would like towards the end of your life. It can also make it easier for your family and your healthcare teams to make decisions about your care. 

The government is clear that even though the current pandemic is putting pressure on health and social care services, you and your family should still be involved, as much as possible, in planning and making decisions about your health and care. This includes your care at the end of life.

For example, you may have thought about where you want to be at the end of your life. You may prefer to stay at home with care and support to look after you. Or you may wish to be in a hospice. You should discuss your wishes with your health professionals. They will do their best to support your wishes, but will also have to consider the high demand on NHS services caused by coronavirus.

If you have not talked about plans for your future care, it would be good to do this now. Some people with cancer or a terminal illness are more at risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. If you do become seriously unwell and may not recover, it will help your family and healthcare team to give you the care you would like if you have planned ahead.

While it is usually you who chooses to have these conversations, some GPs are contacting people who are considered to be more at risk of harm from coronavirus. This may include people who have serious health conditions and those who are approaching the end of their lives. So you may find your GP calls you to discuss planning ahead.

You may have wondered about whether you would get life support if you become seriously ill with coronavirus. In normal circumstances, treatments such as life support are unlikely to be of benefit to someone nearing the end of their life. It can also be distressing for family members and carers. Your doctors will consider what they feel will be the best for you, based on your situation, when making decisions about your treatment. 

We have more information about how coronavirus affects people with cancer.

Advance care planning and power of attorney

We have more information about planning ahead. There are different ways to plan ahead and these vary depending on which part of the UK you live in. You can read more about:

I visit a hospice day centre regularly. Can I still do this?

You will need to check with your local hospice about what services they are still able to provide. Some hospices may limit visiting and may close day services. You may be able to have some appointments by phone.

Some hospices may be closed. Hospice UK has more information about hospices and coronavirus.

Information for family members

My relative is approaching the end of life? Can I still visit them?

It is important to follow government guidelines for going out and meeting with other people. These vary depending on which country in the UK you live in. 

You can read more about the guidelines for each country:

Everyone is being told to stay at home and only go out for essential needs as little as possible. When going out you need to stay at least 2 metres away from all other people except other members of your household. This means you cannot visit people in their homes to see how they are. This is understandably upsetting but is aimed to protect everyone and reduce the risk of getting coronavirus. 

You can still talk by phone, Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime etc if you have a camera phone and through social media.

If your relative becomes very poorly, the best people to speak to will be their healthcare team. Make sure you have all the details you need in case you need to contact them. This includes:

  • their GP
  • their local Macmillan or other palliative care team
  • their local hospice 
  • health and social care workers involved in their care. 

Visiting someone who is dying

When a family member or close friend is dying it can be an emotional and difficult situation. This can be even more distressing if you cannot visit them.

New guidance has been given by the NHS in England. You may be able to visit someone who is dying or someone in a care home. Only one person is allowed to visit, but if social distancing can be followed two people may be allowed. The healthcare team caring for your relative or friend will be able to advise you. People who are there to look after the person are not counted as visitors. 

If you have any symptoms of coronavirus you will not be able to visit. Understandably this is upsetting but this is to protect other people who are looking after your relative or friend.  

The healthcare team will be able to advise you about what to expect when you visit. They can also talk to you about any precautions that you need to take. The staff are there to give you practical information and emotional support as well as care for your loved one.

Your visit may include some of the following:

  • You will need to thoroughly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after your visit.
  • You should only take the personal belongings you need. Try to keep these to a minimum.
  • If the person you are visiting has coronavirus you will need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). The healthcare team will tell you what you need to wear and how to put it on. Make sure you use the toilet and have a small drink before you put on PPE to save you having to remove it and put it on again during your visit.
  • You will still need to follow social distancing guidelines as you enter and leave the building, such as staying 2 metres away from other people and avoiding touching surfaces.
  • Even if the person does not have coronavirus you will still need to follow social distancing guidelines.
  • If you don’t have symptoms yourself but you are self-isolating because someone in your household does, you can still visit but you will need to wear PPE as directed by the healthcare team. You will need to stay 2 metres away from your relative or friend and your visit may need to be limited to 15 minutes

If you become unwell following your visit you must follow self- isolation guidance.

For the latest guidance about visiting care homes, visit the GOV.UK website.


Information for visiting care homes

From early March residents in care homes in England and Scotland will be able to have regular indoor visits if certain rules are followed. Staff in each care home will be able to give you more information about arranging a visit and the rules to follow.
The governments in Wales and Northern Ireland currently have no changes planned to care home visits.
Advice for visitors is on the government websites:

No changes have been announced for hospital or hospice visits.

Funerals during the coronavirus outbreak

If your partner, relative or friend has died you may find it hard to cope with your emotions and the practical things you have to do. This might be particularly difficult during the coronavirus pandemic. The government recognises the importance to people of being able to say goodbye to their loved ones and has given some guidance about funerals.

Who can attend a funeral?

A funeral can still take place but there are some limitations. You can attend a funeral if you:

  • lived in the same house as the person who has died
  • are a close family member.

If the person who died has no close family or household members then a small number of friends can attend. If you are arranging a funeral, you can also choose a celebrant to be there if you wish.

All mourners need to observe safe social distancing. This means there needs to be enough space for people to be 2 metres apart at all times. This might limit the number of people who can go to the funeral.

Some funeral providers can livestream or record the funeral. This means people who cannot be there in person can watch at the time or later. Your funeral director can tell you if this is something they can offer.

If you are self-isolating

If you want to attend a funeral but are self-isolating because someone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus, the funeral organisers should do their best to make it possible for you to attend. They will need to have a process in place to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus as much as possible.

You will need to:

  • keep a minimum of 2 metres distance between you and other people
  • let other mourners know you are self-isolating - you should not attend if someone else will be there who is in the extremely vulnerable group of people.
  • follow strict hygiene guidelines such as washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue then throwing the tissue into a bin
  • use your own transport if you can, to travel to the funeral.

Unfortunately, you cannot attend a funeral if you have symptoms of coronavirus yourself.

If you are shielding

If you are following the government’s advice to shield (as you are extremely vulnerable to being seriously ill if you get coronavirus) you will need to think about the risk to yourself of leaving your home to attend a funeral. But if, having considered the risks, you still want to go, the funeral organisers should do their best to make it possible for you to attend. Government guidance suggests it is not advisable for you to be there if there is someone attending who is self-isolating.

If you are shielding and you attend a funeral you will need to:

  • keep a minimum of 2 metres distance between you and other people
  • let other mourners know you are shielding.
  • follow strict hygiene guidelines such as washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue then throwing the tissue into a bin
  • use your own transport if you can, to travel to the funeral.

You cannot attend a funeral if you have symptoms of coronavirus yourself. 

How many people can attend a funeral?

The government has not given an upper limit, but the number of mourners must be restricted so that safe social distancing can be observed. This means there needs to be enough space for people to be 2 metres apart at all times. Some crematoriums are restricting numbers to a maximum of 10. Some are not allowing anyone to attend as they cannot maintain safe social distancing. Understandably, this is very upsetting to family and friends who want to say goodbye.

How will the funeral service be affected?

All funeral firms have their own policies. What they can offer will vary depending on things like how much space they have and the number of staff available. The director of your chosen crematorium or cemetery will be able to give you more information.

During the service all mourners must remain 2 metres apart from anyone who is not in their household. You should not hug or touch anyone who is not in your household. This can be especially hard as giving someone a hug is a way of showing how much we care at such a tough time.

There may be other changes too. For example:

  • mourners may not be able to carry or touch the coffin
  • crematorium gardens may be closed
  • charity donations may need to be done online instead of having a traditional collection.

Your funeral director or celebrant will be able to give you more detail.

It may be possible to livestream or record the funeral service so people who cannot be there in person can watch at the time or later. Your funeral director can tell you if this is something they can offer.

For people who are not able to attend the funeral, they may want to think about other ways to meet and express their condolences and feelings. For example, they could join an online forum such as Zoom, WhatsApp or Google Hangout to share memories, photographs and listen to music.

Some people may choose to celebrate their loved-one’s life at a later date, after the lockdown or social distancing restrictions are lifted.

Coping with bereavement

The coronavirus outbreak will affect many people’s grief, whatever the cause of death. Physical distancing may have prevented them from being able to say goodbye, holding the funeral they would have liked, and getting support in person from family and friends.

There is support available. Here are some links we hope will help: