If you care for someone with cancer

The latest guidance about coronavirus

Updated on Friday 16th October

As we are now in the second wave of the pandemic, the UK Government has announced new measures to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. What these measures are will depend on what part of the country you live in. Please look at your local authority website for what is happening in your area and visit government websites for guidance on what you can and cannot do in:


Everyone is being asked to follow the government’s social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But if you care for someone who does not live in your house you can leave your home to provide essential care. This includes washing, dressing, providing meals and giving medication.

It is important to follow strict hygiene guidelines while you are caring for someone. For example, washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds when you arrive and often while you are there – especially when you blow your nose, sneeze, cough, eat or handle food.

Effective hand washing is one of the main things to help protect both you and the person you care for from coronavirus. Visit the NHS for more information on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Is the person I am caring for ‘vulnerable’ or ‘extremely vulnerable’?

The person you are caring for may be in one of the groups of people the government has identified as being at risk of being very unwell if they get coronavirus.

Vulnerable people

People who are vulnerable are at risk of being seriously unwell if they get coronavirus. This includes people who are:

  • over 70
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition (for adults this usually means anyone advised to get a flu jab each year on medical grounds)
  • pregnant.

People in the vulnerable group are advised to strictly follow the government’s guidelines for social distancing.

Extremely vulnerable people

Some people are considered to be at very high risk of being seriously unwell if they get coronavirus. These people are in the extremely vulnerable group. For people with cancer, this includes:

  • people having chemotherapy
  • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • people having intensive (radical) radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • people who have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the last six months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.

The NHS has more information about who is at high risk.

Caring for someone in the extremely vulnerable group

People in the extremely vulnerable group are being contacted directly by the NHS to advise them to follow shielding guidelines. You may get a letter from the NHS as the carer of an extremely vulnerable person.

Anyone who is in this group needs to stay at home for 12 weeks. They should register on the government website. Being on the extremely vulnerable register means they will be able to get help with essential supplies such as food and medicines. You can register them if they cannot do this themselves.

You can still continue to care for someone in this group as long as you are well. You must:

  • only provide essential care
  • wash your hands when you arrive at the home of the person you care for and often while there, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards.

You will need to keep your visits to a minimum to protect the person you are caring for. Understandably this can be hard for both of you. Only you can visit as the carer.

Other people that usually visit will need to stay away and keep in touch by phone, online or by post. Any essential medical care can still be provided by healthcare staff.

Do not visit if you are unwell. You will need to make other arrangements for their care.

Make sure the person you are caring for knows who to contact if they feel unwell. For example, they need to know about the NHS 111 coronavirus service.

Carers UK has more information about caring for someone during the coronavirus pandemic.

What happens if I cannot provide care?

Making an emergency plan

You may already have an emergency plan in place if the person you care for relies on you for support. If not, it is a good idea for you both to think about this now.

The emergency plan will help if you cannot care for your relative or friend for any reason and other people need to be involved.

In your plan write down:

  • the name and address and any other contact details of the person you are looking after
  • who you and the person you look after would like to be contacted in an emergency – including family members, friends and health and social care professionals
  • details of any medication the person you look after is taking – what it is, when and how it is taken and where it is kept
  • details of their GP and any other care and support services involved in their care
  • details of any ongoing treatment they need
  • any mobility issues or other needs to be aware of
  • details of any medical appointments they need to keep.

Make sure the person you care for and other people such as a family member or GP know where this information is kept.

Carers UK have more information about making an emergency plan.

Who else can help provide care?

There are different people who can help if you are not able to provide care yourself.

If you can, ask friends and other family members who can help you. It would be useful to have a plan of who to contact first in case of emergency.

If you cannot arrange help from friends or family, there are organisations that can help provide care.

Carers UK have information about local care organisations. Or you can contact your local authority. You might also find it helpful to visit the NHS service finder page to find services near you.

What happens if the person I care for develops symptoms of coronavirus?

If you live with the person you care for and they develop symptoms, everyone in the household will need to follow the government’s self–isolation guidelines.

If you do not fall into the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable group yourself, you can continue to provide care. You should follow the guidance on social distancing and good hygiene as best you can.

If you yourself are considered vulnerable, you must strictly follow the social distancing guidelines. It would be better if someone else can take over caring responsibilities.

However, this may not be possible depending on your situation. Do your best to keep your contact to the person you care for to a minimum.

If you yourself are in the extremely vulnerable group of people you should strictly avoid contact with the person who has symptoms. This means you will need to arrange for someone else to provide care. Try to keep as much distance as you can between yourself and the person with symptoms.

If you cannot arrange someone else to provide care, contact your:

What happens if I, or someone in my household, develop symptoms of coronavirus?

If you or someone in your household develops symptoms of coronavirus such as a high temperature and/or a new continuous cough, you need to follow the government guidelines for self-isolating:

  • If you live alone you will need to stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started.
  • If you live with other people and someone else in the household develops symptoms, you will need to stay at home for 14 days from when that person’s symptoms started.
  • If the person you care for is in the same household, and you have symptoms yourself, it would be better if there is someone else who can care for them. But this may not be possible if you usually provide close contact care such as help with washing.
  • If the person you care for does not live in the same house as you, someone else will need to provide the care you usually give. You will not be able to visit them to provide care while you are self-isolating.
  • If the person you care for is in the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable group, you will need to make other arrangements for their care. Other family members and friends may be able to provide the care you usually give.
  • If you cannot arrange someone else to provide care, contact your local authorityNHS trust or healthcare provider . If you are not sure how to organise care contact NHS 111.

If you work and are a carer

During the coronavirus pandemic, everyone has been asked to work from home where possible apart from key workers. The government has guidance for employers and employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

If you cannot work from home, you could ask your employer if you could be furloughed through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The government’s guidance on furloughing specifically says that furloughing applies to people with caring responsibilities. The Working families website also has more information.

You are entitled to time off if you are working and need to look after someone in an emergency. This includes coronavirus related situations. You will need to check with your employer about your rights regarding pay in this case. Different employers have different policies. 

You might find it helpful to talk to our work support service.

Related Stories & Media

If you are a Macmillan volunteer

We’ve taken the difficult decision to pause face-to-face volunteering activities at the moment to ensure the safety of people living with cancer and our amazing volunteers. But there are still lots of ways you can get involved to support people living with cancer. To stay up-to-date, see our latest guidance for Macmillan volunteers.

Looking after yourself

It is important to look after yourself as well as the person you are caring for. You may feel more under pressure because of the restrictions in place. And you may be worried about whether you will get the support you need.

There are things you can do to help look after yourself:

  • try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals and drink enough water
  • exercise regularly, and try to avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs
  • try to get enough rest and sleep
  • do some things you enjoy – reading, listening to an audiobook, cooking, catching up on a favourite TV series or radio programme or podcast
  • keep in touch with people - this might be by email, phone, video calls, social media or post
  • having some people you can talk to about how you are feeling can help you feel supported and help your mental well-being.

The Every Mind Matters website has more information about looking after your mental health.

Where can I find out more?

Carers UK and Carers trust have more information about caring during the conronavirus pandemic. 

You can also contact the Macmillan Support Line:

  • to ask questions about cancer
  • simply for someone to listen to you.

You can call for free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week 9am - 5pm. 

How we are supporting people with cancer

Coronavirus is having a huge impact on people living with cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support are doing the best we can to support people during this time. We have:

  • introduced new support services, delivered over the phone or online
  • set up our new Telephone Buddies service where you can sign up for someone to talk to
  • maintained our Information and Support section on the website with up to date information about all aspects of living with cancer and how to access support
  • created a virtual version of our Mobile Information and Support team where you can email to get information about local services and support.
  • set up a virtual appointment system with our No7 Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors who can give make-up and skincare advice to help with the side effects of cancer treatment. 
  • launched SafeFit. This is a free remote service that connects you with a cancer exercise specialist to help you stay fit and healthy.

How you can help

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We need to be there for people living with cancer. But we can't do it alone. Your support has never mattered more. Find out more about how we're supporting people during the coronavirus outbreak, and how you can help us be there.

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