Your web browser is outdated and may be insecure

The RCN recommends using an updated browser such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome

End of life care

End of life care

Dying is the one certain thing in life – we will all die. Some people unexpectedly as a result of illness or accident, and some gradually from a chronic illness or frailty. The RCN believes that no matter what the reason, everyone has the right to be cared for with dignity and respect as they approach the end of their lives.

The term ‘end of life’ usually refers to the last year of life, although for some people this will be significantly shorter. The term palliative care is often used interchangeably with end of life care. However, palliative care largely relates to symptom management, rather than actual end of life care. 

The RCN believes that end of life care is not just the responsibility of specialist nurses and teams, rather that everyone should be able to care for a loved one as they reach the end of their lives, including all nurses and health care support workers in all settings, the patient’s family as well as members of the community.

End of life care is not just the practical and technical delivery of care provided to the individual who is dying, but also refers to the support and information available both to them and the people who are important to them, e.g. bereavement support.

Due to an unacceptable variance in the availability of services and professional expertise available to patients, many people are experiencing poor care at a time when they and their families need it to be at its best. The RCN is committed to ensuring that nurses working with people who are dying are given the support they need to understand their role.

RCN End of Life Care and Nursing Wellbeing

This programme will provide resources to support the delivery of end of life care to the dying person, their family and carers.

Having courageous conversations by telephone or video during the COVID-19 pandemic

These guidelines have been developed to support nursing staff who are having to initiate challenging and courageous conversations with patients remotely.

Podcast: Having courageous conversations by telephone

Bounce Back Boy

Bounce Back Boy

Bounce Back Boy is a film that explores the life and the death of 23 year old Josh Cawley following catastrophic injuries inflicted by his birth parents. It explores how his, and his adoptive family's complex needs were inadequately identified, assessed and supported by health and social care professionals.

The original play was written by playwright Brian Daniels, in conjunction with Josh’s adoptive mother Lynn Cawley, who had to co-ordinate his care whilst fighting for the system to recognise his needs.

Getting it right every time

Explore two online resources from the RCN looking at the fundamentals of nursing care at the end of life and learning around the delivery of nutrition and hydration at the end of life.

Puzzle pieces

Related to end of life care:

Professional lead for end of life care:

RCN learning path for healthcare support workers

A new learning path for healthcare support workers, is now available on e-ELCA. The aim of this learning path is to provide healthcare support workers with a greater understanding and confidence when working with individuals near the end of life and to offer support for their families. It’s relevant to all settings including care homes and domiciliary care. Sessions in this path have public access, meaning they can be accessed by logging in with any email address.

See: RCN learning path for healthcare support workers

Care After Death

Guidance for staff responsible for care after death from Hospice UK.

COVID-19 guidance on DNACPR and verification of death

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and other clinicians are likely to face a sharp and sustained rise in the volume of urgent decisions to take around CPR.

Verification of Expected Deaths

Essential guidance for staff involved in care after death, especially nurses working in the community and care homes. This guidance has been co-created and endorsed by the RCN.

Fundamentals of end of life care

Fundamentals of end of life care

There are some fundamentals of end of life care that apply to all care settings in each of the four UK countries.