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Palliative Care Vs Hospice - What Are The Differences?

February 09th 2024

Understanding the difference between hospice and palliative care is crucial when facing serious illnesses or navigating end-of-life care for your loved ones. Both terms are often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct approaches with different focuses and goals. 

Both palliative care and hospice care prioritise the well-being of the patient and aim to enhance their overall quality of life. To be able to make an informed choice about which type of supportive care is best for you or your loved one, let's explore the similarities and differences between hospice and palliative care to help shed light on each unique approach and dispel common misconceptions.


What Does Palliative Care Mean?

Palliative care is a holistic approach aimed at improving the quality of life for individuals facing serious illnesses, regardless of their life expectancy. The key emphasis is on addressing not only the physical symptoms but also the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of the patient. Unlike hospice care, palliative care can be provided simultaneously with curative treatments. The goal is to alleviate symptoms and enhance comfort and well-being throughout the entire course of an illness.


What Are the Characteristics of Palliative Care

Palliative care involves a multidisciplinary team-based approach, bringing together healthcare professionals from various areas of care, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and specialist therapists. This collaborative effort ensures a holistic and well-rounded approach to the patient's care. One distinctive feature of palliative care is that it aims to provide support as soon as someone is diagnosed, however, it can begin at any stage of a serious illness. This type of can can even be administered alongside treatments aimed at curing the condition. Palliative services can be offered for both short-term and long-term illnesses and allow individuals to flow between curative and palliative treatments based on their evolving needs and treatment goals. 


What is Hospice Care?

Hospice care or end-of-life care, on the other hand, is a specialised form of supportive care designed for individuals with a life expectancy of six months or less. It shifts the focus from curative treatments to symptom management and provides comfort and support in the final stages of a terminal illness. Hospice care aims to offer dignity, peace, and quality of life to patients in their last months, weeks, or days.


What Does Hospice Care Look Like?

Hospice care is often associated with hospice facilities but this approach to care can also be provided in the individual’s own home. This helps to create a familiar and comforting environment. Hospice treatment can also be administered in a care home or a hospital. Beyond physical care, hospice support includes comprehensive bereavement support for the patient's family after their passing. The primary goal is to ensure a peaceful and dignified transition for the patient and to support their loved ones through the grieving process.


Key Differences Between Hospice And Palliative Care

One of the key differences between palliative care and hospice relates to the eligibility criteria. Palliative care is available to individuals at any stage of a serious illness, regardless of life expectancy. In contrast, hospice care is specifically designed for those with six months or less to live. 

Another crucial distinction relates to the treatment goals. While palliative care aims to improve the overall quality of life while managing the underlying diagnosis and reviewing cure goals, hospice care focuses on providing comfort and support care in the terminal phase when the individual has stopped responding to their treatments. Generally, life-prolonging treatments aren't used in hospice care, instead, they mainly focus on preparing for end-of-life from a comfort care approach. Some other differences between palliative care and hospice care include:

  • Location of care - Palliative services can be administered in various settings, including hospitals, palliative care homes, and the individual’s home. It is not limited to end-of-life situations. Hospice treatments are often provided in the patient's home to create a familiar and comfortable environment. Hospice care can also be delivered in hospices or hospitals.
  • The type of care teams involved - A multidisciplinary team, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and therapists is usually involved in palliative care. The team collaborates to address the diverse needs of the patient. While hospice care can also involve a multidisciplinary team, there is a specific focus on end-of-life care. Bereavement support is a crucial part of the hospice team's role, and the team will be there to support the individual's family after their passing.
  • Care transition flexibility - Palliative care is very flexible and allows for a seamless transition between curative palliative treatments based on the treatment goals and the evolving needs of the individual. For example, someone could be receiving curative treatments for cancer but may require palliative care in the form of emotional and spiritual support or medication to alleviate symptoms. Hospice care typically involves transitioning from curative treatments to exclusively focusing on comfort and quality of life during the individual's final months or weeks.


Misconceptions About Palliative Care vs. Hospice

There are common misconceptions about both palliative care and hospice, often stemming from the fear of giving up on treatment or hope. It's essential to recognise that choosing palliative care or a hospice does not mean abandoning curative treatments. Instead, it reflects a shift in focus based on the patient's evolving needs and prognosis.


There are also misconceptions about the cost of palliative care and hospice care with many people assuming that both types of care are expensive. Hospice care is usually free thanks to NHS funding and charity donations. Palliative care can be privately funded or under NHS continuing healthcare, treatment in a palliative care home can be funded by the NHS. 

Select Healthcare’s Palliative Services

The Select Healthcare Group offers palliative services and end-of-life care across the UK in several specialist palliative care homes. If you’d like to know what to expect from a palliative care home or you’d like more information about our end-of-life care services, contact our knowledgeable team today on 01384 217900.

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