Other care options

When you’re caring for someone with advanced cancer, you might need to take time off to give yourself a break. If you don’t, you might become very stressed or unwell yourself.

Care options include respite care, residential and nursing home care, and hospice or hospital care.

Respite care can provide short or longer breaks for carers. Someone could come to sit with your relative or friend for a few hours, or they might be able to visit a day centre. You healthcare team could also arrange for them to have a short stay in a hospice, hospital or care home.

Residential care homes or care homes with nursing offer short or long-term accommodation. Your social worker or healthcare team will be able to give you more information.

If the person you’re caring for becomes more unwell, they may want to move to a hospice or hospital palliative care unit. They can then receive specialist care for any distressing symptoms they have. Care in a hospice is always free.

Other care options

When you’re caring for someone full-time or for long periods, you may need to have breaks otherwise you may start to feel stressed, resentful or even unwell.

A number of different care options are available to give you time off. To access some of them you will need to be referred to your social services or local authority for an assessment. They will assess the needs of the person you care for and your needs as a carer. They will then be able to tell you about the services they can provide to meet your needs. Local authorities charge for some care services and they will give you information about how the care will be funded.

Options include:

  • respite care
  • residential and nursing home care
  • hospice and hospital care.

Respite care

Respite care allows you to get a short break for a few hours, an evening or a week or two. Ask your social worker, GP or specialist palliative nurse about ways you may be able to have a short break. Talking over your situation with someone else can be helpful. They may suggest some of these care services.

Sitting services

Sometimes it can be arranged for someone to sit with the person you look after to give you a break for a few hours in the day, or an evening off. Occasionally, sitters can stay overnight. Some sitters will also help with light housework or personal care, such as bathing or dressing.

Day centres

Your local hospice or hospital may run a day centre for people with cancer. The day centre may be able to look after your relative or friend for a short time. The centre may provide lunch and some centres offer other services, such as bathing and complementary therapies. Usually transport is provided.

Short stays

There will be times when you need more than a few hours off, or an evening’s break. Recognising when this is needed can be very important. If you need a break, the district nurse or specialist palliative nurse may be able to arrange for the person you’re caring for to go into a hospice, hospital, residential home or care home with nursing home for a short while.

This is a decision you will have to make jointly with the person you are caring for. They may even be the one to suggest it if you’re getting very tired. Both of you might enjoy a short break. After this, you may both feel rested and better able to manage again.

Before you make a decision, you, the person you’re looking after, and perhaps other members of the family or friends, might find it reassuring to go and see the hospice, hospital or home and talk to the staff.

To find out what is available locally, ask your healthcare team or a local support group. You can also contact the Carers Trust or Carers UK for more information about services local to you.

Care in residential homes or care homes with nursing (nursing homes)

These services offer short- or long-term accommodation and care. Residential care homes or care homes with nursing (nursing homes) provide different levels of care. Your social worker or healthcare team can explain the difference and give you more information about:

  • local care homes
  • the care provided by the care homes
  • things to think about when choosing a care home
  • funding arrangements.

They can help arrange this type of care but it may take some time.

Lists of care homes are available from your local social services department. Care homes may not be available in all parts of the UK.

The standard of care provided by care homes and care agencies is monitored across the four UK nations by the following organisations:

Before choosing a care home or agency you may want to check its standard of care with one of these organisations. You can also ask your healthcare worker or social worker to provide you with this information. They will be able to help you get a report on the care home or agency so that you both feel confident about the standard of care provided.

Hospice and hospital care

If the person you are caring for becomes more unwell as their illness develops, they may want to be looked after in a hospice or in a palliative care unit of the local hospital. You may have already discussed this with them and they may have written down their wishes in a Preferred Priorities for Care (PPC) document. We have more information about this document and other ways of advance care planning.

The GP, district nurse, specialist palliative care nurse or social worker may suggest a short stay in a hospice or the hospital. They may suggest it because your relative or friend has symptoms that would be easier to control if they had specialist care. They may also suggest it to give you a rest as caring for someone can be very tiring.

It’s often difficult to accept that moving them is the best solution, especially if you’ve put all your time and energy into caring for them at home. You may both feel very upset that they might not be able to come home again. However, it’s common for someone to go into a hospice for a short time so that their symptoms can be closely assessed and managed, and then return home.

Care in a hospice is always free. They specialise in managing symptoms including pain. They are generally smaller and quieter than hospitals and they work at a much gentler pace. Many have sitting rooms and are able to provide a place for relatives to stay overnight.

Sometimes there is a waiting list to go into a hospice, but this is usually short. If you’re not sure about the idea of hospice care, you can ask to visit before making a decision. You can then talk to the staff about your concerns. Many hospices also have specialist palliative care community nursing teams and day centres for people living at home. Your palliative care nurse can tell you more about these services.

Back to Looking after someone with advanced cancer

Managing symptoms

There are many ways you can help the person you’re looking after to manage symptoms or side effects while they are at home.

Support from voluntary organisations

Charities and voluntary organisations may be able to offer information, support groups, financial help, holiday schemes, transport or counselling.

Support from family and friends

Family and friends may be able to help you with practical and emotional support while you care for someone with advanced cancer.