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End of life hospital care

For many people, end of life care takes place in hospital as Jessica Tomlin explains.

Hospital care for the terminally ill

What is hospital care

Many people will be cared for in a hospital towards the end of their lives.

While it may be comforting to know that there will be a team of health care professionals on hand, there can be concerns about privacy, or inflexibility of visiting arrangements, for example.

However, palliative care needs - whatever they are - should be met to the same standards regardless of setting. A hospital will almost certainly have a specialist palliative care team.

Who qualifies for palliative care in a hospital

As with palliative care in any setting, anyone who is in the final stages of a terminal illness qualifies for palliative care.

The patient's needs will first be assessed by his or her GP to determine the necessary level of care. If necessary, the GP will then refer the patient to the appropriate hospital.

When treating complex illnesses, when comprehensive pain relief expertise is required and a range of care specialists need to be on hand, palliative care is likely to be better provided in hospitals than in hospices or at home.

However, hospitals - despite providing high standards of care - are generally less sympathetic, less personal and have less flexible visiting arrangements than hospices.

The cost of palliative care

Receiving palliative care in an NHS hospital is free of charge.

Death in hospital

More people die in hospital than anywhere else. This is not surprising, yet the shock it causes is just as profound and upsetting as anywhere else.

Where possible, professional medical staff will warn and prepare close family members when they believe death is unavoidable and imminent.

Larger hospitals also employ bereavement officers, and they will provide information about what to do in a sympathetic manner. See also Sudden and unexpected death and bereavement.

Some excellent organisations to contact for further information are Macmillan Nurses; Sue Ryder Care; Marie Curie Cancer Care and the National Council for Palliative Care.

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