What is palliative care or end of life care?

This page explains what palliative care is, what type of care and support Sue Ryder provides, and who provides it.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is the care and support given to people with life-limiting conditions like cancer, heart failure and lung disease. It aims to give people the best quality of life possible. It focuses on managing pain and other symptoms over the weeks, months or years someone is living with a life-limiting condition.

Palliative care includes the practical and emotional support people and those close to them need in order to spend the time they have left in the way they choose.

What is end of life care?

End of life care is the care and support given to people in their last few weeks or final days.

People can receive end of life care at home, in a hospice or in hospital, depending on their needs and preferences. Whatever has brought a person to the end of their life, be it a life-limiting condition or old age, end of life care aims to manage pain and other symptoms so they are as comfortable as possible.

By helping people and their families to make the choices that are right for them, end of life care offers practical and emotional support at what can be a very difficult time.

What is hospice care?

Hospice care is the care given to people with a life-limiting condition. It combines specialist medical care to manage pain and other symptoms, along with the emotional and practical support.

Hospice care describes a type of care, rather than a place of care. It can be given in a hospice building at day clinics or for short, overnight stays (usually two weeks), in people’s homes and out in the community.

It includes palliative care, which focuses on managing symptoms to give someone the best quality of life for the weeks, months and years they are living with a life-limiting condition. And it includes end of life care, which is given in someone’s final weeks and days.

People can choose to have hospice care until their symptoms are under control, then take a break if their condition becomes stable and they feel better. Some people choose to spend their last few weeks and days at a hospice and die there.

What type of care and support does Sue Ryder provide?

Inpatient care

Our hospices and palliative care hubs offer inpatient care in calm surroundings, with staff highly skilled in dealing with the physical and emotional effects of life-limiting conditions. By relieving symptoms such as pain, breathlessness and nausea, our specialist teams make people as comfortable as possible.

Our therapy, family support and spiritual care teams are also there to care for the whole person, their family and friends. We go the extra mile to make our hospices feel like a home from home.

We’re always open 24 hours a day. Family and friends can visit any time they like and will always receive a warm welcome. And whatever people want, whether that’s a takeaway, a visit from their cat or just someone to hold their hand and listen, the care we provide is flexible.

Find your nearest centre or palliative care hub.

Day services

Our day services can support people to be cared for at home for as long as possible, providing practical care as well as preventing isolation. How often someone comes in depends entirely on their circumstances and needs. It could be for a medical procedure, such as a blood transfusion, for physiotherapy, or for a consultation with our therapy or social work teams.

There’s the added benefit of enjoying an activity and a chat over a cuppa with people in similar circumstances, whilst giving carers a break too.

Community services

We don’t just care for people at our hospices; we also provide a variety of services from our expert teams out in the community, which enable patients to remain in the comfort of their own homes. Our Sue Ryder community nurses are a key part of this and are available seven days a week for home visits.

They manage physical symptoms like pain, nausea or fatigue. They also work closely with GPs and other health and social care teams to ensure care and support is co-ordinated.

The nurses will share expert advice, support loved ones, and if need be, provide a referral to our day or inpatient services. Our other healthcare specialists will also work out in the community, treating people at home with the same level of care as they would receive at one of our hospices.

We also have outpatient clinics where patients attend a nearby location for a booked appointment.

Respite care

We offer short-stay respite care at some of our hospices.

This is for people who require short-term support – after being in hospital, for example, or simply to give them and their carer a break from routine. People can book one-off or regular stays, or come to us in an emergency.


Our teams of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists are a vital part of the personalised care we provide. They support people to maintain or build strength, relearn skills or find new ways of doing things depending on their own goals and interests, so they can live their lives as fully as possible. In addition to working with people in our hospices and care centres, we support people who are being cared for at home.

For example, carrying out home assessments to make sure it’s safe and secure, and to minimise the chance of accidents or problems that might lead to a trip to hospital.

Family and bereavement support

Our social workers can make sure loved ones and carers receive emotional, practical and financial support, and put them in touch with other services that can help too.

Our bereavement support workers help families and friends emotionally in coming to terms with a diagnosis or the loss of a loved one.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies like massage, aromatherapy and reiki are available as an aid to reducing stress, increasing energy and improving relaxation and sleep.

This can be very therapeutic and benefit both patients and their carers. In some areas we can provide these therapies in the patient’s own home.

Spiritual care

When the big questions such as ’why me?’ are playing on someone’s mind, or they’re feeling great fear and anxiety, spiritual support can be a huge comfort. Regardless of faith or belief, we are here for people, families and carers to bring peace of mind.

We can also help with any religious needs people have, or if we can't help, we'll connect them with people who can.

Who provides this care at Sue Ryder?

All of our care and support is provided by Sue Ryder healthcare professionals who are experts in palliative and end of life care. These teams include doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, physiotherapists, occupational and complementary therapists, social workers, bereavement support workers and volunteer befrienders.

Our healthcare teams are privileged to be there for you when it matters to give care and support to people and their families at the most difficult time of their lives.

Sue Ryder healthcare professionals are trained and experienced in providing the specialist care that people with life-limiting illnesses need. Working together seamlessly, they listen to what is important to each person and their family; they provide the expert, personalised care that people need; and they co-ordinate with other health professionals and services to ensure people get the right care and support at the right time.

The healthcare teams bring together a rich mix of skills in areas such as intensive care, renal medicine and oncology, and are able to provide expert care whatever a person’s diagnosis. They are trained and experienced in reviewing and managing medication, and managing complex symptoms such as pain, vomiting and breathlessness, that it can be difficult to control at home. They also help people with activities of daily living and personal care such as washing, dressing and going to the toilet.

Above all, Sue Ryder staff listen to what’s important to people and how they want to be cared for. They give people choice and control. We know that for many people this is a very anxious time, so our nurses take the time to do the little things, like having a cup of tea and chat when someone needs it, and they make the effort to organise the big things, like helping someone to get married.

Whether they are supporting people in one of our hospices or providing care in someone’s home, our healthcare teams focus on going the extra mile to provide the wrap-around care each person needs to enjoy the best quality of life they can.

Care and support near you

Find out what palliative or end of life care and support is available near you.