Support from health and social care professionals

When you’re caring for someone at home, there is support available from health and social care professionals in your community.

Your GP will have overall responsibility for the person you’re caring for. They can prescribe medication, give you advice and organise any help you need. They can arrange visits from district nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists or specialist palliative care nurses.

A district nurse may visit your home to assess the person’s needs. They can then organise regular visits from community nurses. Community nurses give nursing care and can also show you how to do everyday nursing tasks.

Palliative care nurses, sometimes called Macmillan nurses, specialise in pain and symptom control. They’re usually based in hospices but can visit you at home. Marie Curie nurses can also visit if you need extra help.

A social worker can visit you at home to assess what practical help you and the person you’re caring for need. Your local authority then looks at the level of your needs and decides if they will arrange the services. Services vary from area to area.

The GP (family doctor)

A GP has overall responsibility for the healthcare of ill people being looked after at home. They can:

  • prescribe drugs
  • organise nursing help if needed - for example, visits from a district or specialist palliative care nurse, physiotherapist or occupational therapist (OT)
  • arrange for the person you’re caring for to go into hospital, hospice or nursing home. This may be so you can have a break from your caring responsibilities. This is known as respite care.

If the person you are caring for has moved to your home from another area since they became ill, you will need to register them with a local surgery. Let their previous GP know what has happened and register at the new surgery. You will need the name and address of their previous GP and, if possible, their NHS medical card.

Contact the GP if you are worried about something. It may be that the person you are caring for has new or worsening symptoms or there is a sudden change in their condition. The GP may arrange to make a home visit, give you advice on the phone or suggest a visit to the surgery. You should also let the GP know that you’re a carer. They may be able to signpost you to local support services.

GP surgeries must provide a 24-hour service. If you call for a doctor after the surgery has closed or at weekends, you’re likely to be put through to an out-of-hours doctor. 

In Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, people with cancer can get free prescriptions. If you live in England, prescriptions are also free but your friend or relative needs to apply for a prescription exemption certificate. You can ask for an application form (FP92A) at their GP surgery or at the hospital.

District and community nurses

The district nurse is a key person in the care of someone who is ill at home. The district nurse will assess the person’s needs and arrange for other nurses in their team to give nursing care. This may include giving injections, changing dressings, and giving advice on nutrition, pressure area care, bowel problems and incontinence.

They can show you how to do everyday nursing tasks such as washing, moving the person, and personal care.

The district nurse can also arrange for special equipment to be delivered, such as a:

  • commode
  • special mattress
  • bedpan
  • hoist or sling
  • hospital bed.

The hospital or hospice should let the district nurse know that the person you’re caring for is coming home, or the GP may arrange for them to visit.

The first home visit you have will often be from a district nurse. They will have overall responsibility for the nursing help you are given. They will talk to you about the care that will be provided. After that, the district nurse will usually organise for other nurses (also known as community nurses) who work in their team to make regular visits. You will usually see the same one or two nurses.

Community nurses may be able to visit up to three times a day; in the morning, afternoon and evening, although this may vary depending on the services available in your area. District and community nurses will deal with the more complex needs of the person you are caring for. Your social worker can organise a care attendant or carer to help with personal needs such as bathing or home help.

If you’re planning to look after someone at home, we have more information to help you prepare your home.

Continence adviser

The person you’re looking after may be having trouble controlling their bladder and/or bowels. This is known as incontinence. It can be emotionally and practically difficult for both of you. Your district nurse will be able to help you and may suggest that a continence adviser visits you. This is a specialist nurse who can give advice and information about aids and equipment to help you both manage continence problems.

Community specialist palliative care team

These teams specialise in pain and symptom control, as well as offering emotional support. They are usually based in a hospice and have specialist nurses who can visit people who are being looked after at home.

These specialist nurses are sometimes called Macmillan nurses or specialist palliative care nurses. They will work closely with your relative or friend’s GP, district nurse or other hospital services.

Specialist palliative care teams often provide support and advice seven days a week. At night, they usually only offer telephone support. They will tell you more about their services and the services provided by the hospice.

Marie Curie nurse

If you need extra nursing help, especially during the night, a member of the healthcare team may suggest that a Marie Curie nurse visits. This can be either a registered nurse or a senior healthcare assistant.

Marie Curie nurses are trained to look after people with palliative care needs. They normally provide care during acute illness or the last few months of someone’s life. They specialise in giving practical nursing care and can spend the night or part of the day in your home, giving you a break.

Marie Curie is a charity and their nurses are free. They are usually arranged through the district nurse or community team.

Occupational therapist (OT)

Occupational therapists (OTs) look at practical ways of making a home safe, comfortable and easy to live in. They help people who have difficulty moving around or doing everyday tasks such as dressing, washing or cooking.

OTs can suggest and arrange for minor changes to be made to your home to help the person you are caring for with everyday living. They can also help you by ordering a wheelchair, equipment to make bathing or showering easier, or specially adapted cutlery.

Your social worker or district nurse should be able to arrange for an OT to visit your home.


If the person you are caring for has mobility problems, their GP, district nurse or specialist palliative care team may refer them to a physiotherapist. Physiotherapists give advice on exercises and ways to keep as mobile as possible. They can also help with breathing exercises.

Your relative or friend may need to see the physiotherapist. This may be as an outpatient at either the hospice or local hospital. Some physiotherapy teams may visit a person at home.

Private nurses (agency nurses)

Private nursing is available. It can be very expensive and may only be practical as a short-term solution. It can be useful if you’re working and you need a carer while it’s essential there’s a carer at home while you’re out.

There are many private nursing agencies which can supply qualified nurses to come into your home. Try to use an agency that has been recommended to you, or ask the local social services or a carers’ or cancer support group for advice. Our cancer support specialists can give you details of cancer support groups in your area.

Your local phone books will list agencies under the heading ‘Nursing Agencies’ or you can search online.

Social services

Home care

You can get help in the home to support you and the person you are caring for. This can give you a break and help you feel less tired.

Care attendants/carers come to the home to help in various ways. This may be with either jobs around the house, such as cleaning, washing and cooking, or just to sit with your relative or friend. They can also give some physical care with tasks such as washing and dressing. Some care attendant schemes provide someone to be there at night. Your local social services department or the Carers Trust will be able to tell you about schemes in your area.

Home helps offer a variety of services including domestic help, cleaning, washing, cooking and shopping. Home helps are available in some parts of the UK. Other parts, unfortunately, provide no service at all. Your local social services department, social worker, community nurse or GP will know the situation in your area.

If you can afford it, you can get private domestic help by contacting a cleaning agency or by putting an advertisement in a local paper or shop window. If you organise domestic help yourself, make sure you check the person’s references before employing them.

Meals on wheels

If you’re out at work in the day and the person you’re caring for has difficulty preparing a meal themselves, it may be possible for them to have meals provided at home. This is often known as meals on wheels. These may be provided by a commercial organisation or your local authority. You’ll probably have to pay for this service.

You will probably be offered frozen meals that can be put in the freezer to eat later, instead of hot meals. You may be able to borrow equipment to reheat the meals and a small freezer if you need it. Daily hot meals are usually only provided if your relative or friend can’t manage the frozen meals service.

A range of meals is usually available. If the person you are looking after has particular cultural or religious dietary needs, this can usually be provided. For example, they may need a kosher or vegetarian meal, or a very soft diet.

Your social worker can arrange meals on wheels. Or you can visit to see what services they provide.

Laundry service

If you’re caring for someone who is incontinent and you have to do a lot of washing, your local social services department may be able to help by providing a laundry service. Alternatively, you may be able to get a grant for laundry charges. Ask the district nurse, GP or social worker about this.

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.

Other care options

You might need to take some time off from caring. There are different care options available to help you do this.