Other care options

When you are looking after someone with cancer, you might need to take time off caring to give yourself a break. If you don’t, you could become stressed, unwell or very tired.

Care options for the person you look after include: 

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

Respite care can provide short or longer breaks for carers. Someone could come and sit with the person you care for, for a few hours, or they might be able to visit a day centre. Your 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-term or long-term accommodation. Your healthcare team will be able to give you more information about this.

If the person you are caring for becomes more unwell, they may want to move to a hospice or hospital palliative care unit. They can then get specialist care for any symptoms. Once the symptoms are under control, they may be able to come again. Care in a hospice is always free.

Respite care

When you are looking after someone with cancer, you might need to take time off caring to give yourself a break. If you don’t, you could become stressed, unwell or very tired.

Respite care can provide short or longer breaks for carers. It could be for a few hours, an evening, or a week or two. There are different respite care options available, including sitting services, day centres or short stays in a hospice, hospital, or care home.

To get respite care, a social worker will need to assess your needs and the needs of the person you care for. This is called a community care assessment or needs assessment. They will then be able to tell you about the services that are available. Local authorities charge for some care services and they will give you information about how the care will be paid for.

Some charities, such as The Respite Association can also help with respite breaks for carers. This usually involves them arranging care packages for one or two weeks so that carers can get some rest.

Talking about your situation with someone else can be helpful. Ask your GP or specialist palliative care nurse about this. They may suggest some of the following care services.

Respite care was essential really. I thought it would be a nice break for Mum but as it turned out, it was a very good break for me. I wish I’d organised that sooner.


Sitting services

Sometimes it is possible to arrange for someone to sit with the person you look after for a few hours in the day, or for an evening. Occasionally, sitters can stay overnight.

Some sitters will also help with housework or personal care, such as washing and dressing.

Lots of charities offer sitting services, for example Carers Trust.

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 the person you are caring for, for a short time. The centre may provide lunch and some centres offer other services, such as complementary therapies. Transport to the centre is often provided.

Short stays

There may be times when you feel you need a longer break. Recognising when you need this can be very important. If you need a break, the community nurse or specialist palliative care nurse may be able to help. They can arrange for the person you are caring for to have a short stay somewhere. This may be in a hospice, hospital, residential home or care home with nursing.

Whether to have a break is a decision you need to make with the person you are caring for. They may even be the one to suggest it if you are getting very tired. Both of you might enjoy a short break, and afterwards feel rested and better able to manage again.

Some carers use respite care as a chance to take a complete break. Others may want to visit the person while they are in respite care. Talk to the person you are caring for about how you both feel about this, and how you plan to manage it. Before making a decision, you might find it reassuring to go and see the hospice, hospital or home, and talk to the staff. You could take the person you care for with you, or other family or friends.

To find out what is available in the area, ask your health or social care teams. You can also contact Carers Trust or Carers UK for more information about services in your area.

Care and residential services

Residential care homes or care homes with nursing (nursing homes) can give different levels of care. This may be short or long-term. A social worker or member of the healthcare team can explain the difference. They can give you more information about:

  • local care homes
  • care that is given by the care homes
  • things to think about when choosing a care home
  • how to pay for the care.

They can also help to arrange this type of care, but it may take some time. Lists of local care homes are available from your local adult social care department. Care homes may not be available in all parts of the UK. There are also some charities who offer independent advice about finding and paying for care, for example Age UK.

The person you are caring for may be eligible for NHS continuing healthcare. Continuing healthcare offers free care (funded by the NHS) for people who need a lot of ongoing complex care. Ask a health or social care professional how you can apply for this. Before choosing a care home, you may want to find out more about it. The standard of care given by care homes and care agencies is checked across the UK by the Care Quality Commission. You can also ask your healthcare or social worker to give you this information. They may be able to help you get a report on the care home or agency so that you both feel confident about it.


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. This is known as advance care planning.

People are often looked after in hospices at the very end of their life. But the GP, district nurse, specialist palliative care nurse or social worker may suggest a short stay in a hospice or hospital for other reasons. This may be because the person has symptoms that would be easier to control if they had specialist care. It may also be to give you a rest.

It can be difficult to accept that moving the person into care is the best thing to do, especially if you have been caring for them at home. You may both feel very upset that they might not be able to come home again. However, it is common for someone to go into a hospice for a short time to have their symptoms assessed and managed, and then go back home.

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

Sometimes there is a waiting list to go into a hospice, but this is usually short. If you are not sure about the idea of hospice care, you can ask to visit before making a decision. This gives you the chance to talk to staff about your worries.

Back to Looking after someone with cancer

What is a carer?

A carer is someone who gives unpaid practical and emotional support to a person who could not manage without this help.

Managing everyday needs

You may need to help the person you are caring for with things like medicines. You can get support to help you with this.