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Living with a terminal illness and looking for support? Our Support Line team are here to help. 

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People who may be involved in your care

You may come into contact with a number of health and social care professionals following your diagnosis. In this section, we introduce some of the main ones and explain how they can support you during your illness.

On this page:

GP and primary healthcare team

When someone is ill and living at home, their medical care is the responsibility of their primary care team. This traditionally includes your GP, practice nurses, district nurses and health visitors. They are usually based in a health centre or surgery.

Your GP will be able to:

  • tell you how you can access information about your condition and the support services available
  • prescribe your medications
  • liaise with your district nurse regarding your care at home
  • arrange for hospice staff to contact you about how they can help

GPs will work collaboratively with other specialists (oncologists, neurologists, palliative care consultants) to get you the best care possible.

To help you remain at home, your GP may also arrange for NHS services (HSCNI services   in Northern Ireland), such as a district nurse, to visit. The team can:

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District nurses

A district nurse organises and coordinates home care and can arrange for services to be provided if you’re being cared for at home. These vary from area to area but can include Marie Curie Nurses, Macmillan nurses  , social services (see below for regional links), and sitters who can visit regularly and deliver prepared meals.

Your district nurse can also give you information about local services such as:

  • support groups
  • local hospices
  • information and support centres
  • organisations that offer grants
  • complementary therapy practitioners
  • interpreting services
  • other relevant services and organisations

Your district nurse may also carry out a formal assessment (a continuing healthcare assessment, or CHC) of your nursing and related needs in consultation with you and your family. This is to find out how much support will be needed to keep caring for you at home. 

If you don’t know who your district nurse is, speak to your GP surgery or health centre. They will tell you the name of your local district nurse and how to contact them. Not everyone will have access to a district nurse.

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Social workers

If you have a social worker, they are likely to be part of your local social services department (social work department in Scotland, health and social services department in Northern Ireland), which is responsible for providing non-medical support in your area. There are also hospital social workers, who can arrange care packages and liaise with community social workers.

If you want to remain at home, you, a member of your healthcare team, or a family member can request for a social worker to carry out a community care assessment (often called a needs assessment). This will involve the social worker discussing your needs and any difficulties you’re facing.

You should then be provided with services at home based on your needs, but guidelines and criteria for what is available differ throughout the UK. Contact your local council to find out more, or local health and social care trust in Northern Ireland  .

Your social worker can also arrange for an occupational therapy assessment to see what equipment or adaptations might be needed in your home.

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Specialist palliative care team

A specialist palliative care team provides multidisciplinary medical, nursing and psychological care and treatment to people who are living with, or affected by, serious or terminal illnesses. Their aim is to relieve pain and any other symptoms causing discomfort, and improve people’s quality of life. 

If you’re referred to a specialist palliative care team, they will assess your needs and those of your family. They will then provide the best possible care and support in your home, hospital or care home – wherever you’ve chosen to be cared for.

The core members of a specialist palliative care team usually include:

  • palliative medicine consultants
  • palliative care nurse specialists
  • physiotherapists
  • occupational therapists
  • social workers
I didn’t want interference in my family. Some Muslim families can feel isolated, distrusting and may not want to let others in and I understand their difficulties. It was only over time that I learned I could trust the palliative care team and the hospice.
Robena, Carer/Relative

An extended specialist palliative care team could also include:

  • pharmacists
  • dieticians
  • lymphoedema specialists
  • psychologists
  • chaplains or spiritual care professionals

Macmillan nurses and other cancer specialists

Macmillan Cancer Support   funds a wide range of professionals to support people affected by cancer. Unlike Marie Curie Nurses, a Macmillan nurse doesn’t carry out hands-on nursing tasks such as personal hygiene, changing dressings and giving medicines. 

To get support from a Macmillan nurse, you'll need to be referred by your GP, your hospital consultant, a district nurse or a hospital ward sister. You can also call 0808 808 00 00 to find out about getting a referral to a Macmillan nurse or see the Macmillan website.

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Paola’s story – Having palliative care

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