Going home from hospital

Your healthcare team will help make a discharge plan of the support you will get when you leave hospital.

When can I go home from hospital?

Your doctors and nurses will tell you when you might be ready to go home from hospital following cancer treatment. This is known as your expected date of discharge.

You should only be discharged when:

  • your doctors are happy you are well enough to go home
  • you have been given a written discharge plan of the support that you will get
  • the support you need has been organised so you can safely manage at home.

Your expected date of discharge will be reviewed regularly while you are in hospital. You will be told if it needs to change. This may happen because you are not well enough to go home. Or if there is a delay in organising the help you need. Your hospital will have its own discharge policy and plans for discharging people.

What help will I need at home?

The type of support you need will depend on the reason you have been in hospital. You may have some worries about how you will cope. You might decide to stay with family or a friend for a while if you can.

You may need help with some or all the following:

  • personal care – bathing, dressing and going to the toilet
  • domestic tasks – cooking, cleaning and shopping
  • home adaptations and equipment – a raised toilet seat, shower seat, hand rails, pressure-relieving cushions or a stair lift
  • healthcare – help with dressing wounds, injections, medication or specialist support for controlling symptoms
  • emotional care – company or counselling
  • finances – call our financial team on 0808 808 00 00 for guidance on what financial help or benefits you may be able to get.

The care that is planned for you will depend on your individual needs. There are different health and social care professionals who can give you support.

It is important that you and your family members or carers are involved as much as possible in these plans.

Try to be honest with healthcare staff. Tell them as much as you can about any worries you have and the help you need. This makes it easier for them to give you the right support.

If your stay in hospital was planned, you may have been given information about discharge planning before you went in. If you have a clinic appointment before going into hospital, talk to them about any worries you have about going home. 

Who arranges my discharge?

Usually a ward nurse or your keyworker makes plans for you to go home. A keyworker is a nurse or other healthcare professional. They are your main contact and source of support during your stay in hospital.

Nurses in the ward work as a team. This means you may not see the same nurse every day. They talk to each other about the support you will need when you go home. They may also involve other health and social care professionals, such as physiotherapists or occupational therapists. A liaison nurse, nurse discharge coordinator or assessment officer may help organise any ongoing care and support you will need.

It can take from a few days to a few weeks to plan a discharge. This depends on how many services need to be arranged.

You might see lots of different health and social care professionals while your discharge is being planned. You can print and use this key contacts table (PDF) to write down their contact details.

How is my discharge planned?

Needs assessment

While you are in hospital, your healthcare team will ask you questions about your needs. This helps them find out what support you may need when you go home.

They may ask:

  • Do you live alone?
  • Do you have someone who can take you home?
  • Do you have family or friends who can help you when you get home?
  • How do you manage with personal care, such as bathing and washing?
  • Do you think you will be able to prepare your own meals at home?
  • Can you manage steps or stairs, and is there a bathroom downstairs at home?
  • Do you think you will need financial support?
  • Do you have any pets that will need looking after?

Your team will ask your permission (consent) before they do a needs assessment. They will also ask you if the information can be shared with other healthcare professionals and organisations.

If you do not feel confident understanding or speaking in English, the hospital may be able to arrange an interpreter. They can be there when you meet the healthcare team.

If you have any speech or hearing problems, you can ask the doctors or nurses to write things down. If you have sight problems, you can ask for information in large print. A family member or friend may also be able to help you with the needs assessment.

If you have been treated in a private hospital, you may need to contact local authorities yourself to arrange a needs assessment.

Discharge plan

After the needs assessment, your healthcare team will plan for your discharge. Your discharge plan may include:

  • the name of the person who is co-ordinating the plan
  • details of the treatment and support you will get when you go home
  • names and contact details of who will provide the support
  • details of when, and how often, the support will be provided
  • names and contact details of who to contact if there is an emergency, if things do not happen as they should or if you need help out-of-hours.

You can ask the ward staff for a copy of your discharge plan if you have not received it before your discharge.

Holistic needs assessment

You may have a holistic needs assessment (HNA) before going home. This gives you a chance to think about your concerns and discuss possible solutions. It is called ‘holistic’ because the assessment looks at needs or concerns you may have about any area of your life. It is not just about looking at the symptoms of the cancer.  

Your key worker will ask you questions about how you are feeling and the help you need. They will then create a care plan which includes ideas to manage your concerns and contact details for helpful organisations or services.

Care plans

Everyone with a long-term condition should have a care plan if they want one. A care plan is an agreement between the person who is ill and health or social care professionals.

It lists the services and support you will get after treatment or after leaving hospital. It also includes information about what you can do to manage your day-to-day health.

Ask your key worker, specialist nurse or social worker if a care plan has been organised for you.

Involving your carers

If you have family or carers who will be looking after you, they should be involved in the needs assessment and discharge planning. Caring can be hard work, both physically and emotionally. Your carers may need help to support them in their caring role when you go home.

Going home

Before you leave hospital, you may find it helpful to use our hospital discharge checklist (PDF). You can tick off the things you know have been done.

Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will usually give you some advice to follow when you go home. The advice will depend on why you went into hospital. For example, if you had surgery, they will give you advice on looking after your wound and spotting signs of an infection. They may also give you advice on activities you should not do, such as lifting or driving.

Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain the possible side effects if you have had treatments such as:

It is very important to follow the advice you are given by your hospital team. This includes who you should contact (and what number to use) if you are worried or have problems at home.

Before you leave hospital

Before you leave hospital, your hospital team will give you the following.

A letter for your GP

It is important to make sure your GP gets the letter as soon as possible. If you are not given a letter to take with you, your hospital team should have contacted your GP electronically. You could check this with the hospital staff. You can also ask for a printed copy of this letter.

The letter will include information about the treatment you had in hospital and your future care needs. It also explains any medicines you are taking and any changes that have been made to your medication.

Any medicines you need

Your hospital doctors will arrange for you to have enough medicines for 1 to 2 weeks. You will need to get a repeat prescription for any medicines you need to keep taking. For most medicines, you can get this from your GP. But some drugs, such as chemotherapy or other cancer drugs, can only be prescribed by your hospital doctor. They are only given out by the hospital pharmacist.

Make sure you ask your GP surgery for your repeat prescription before your medicine runs out. This is because it can take up to 48 hours for your prescription to be ready to collect.

Advice about your medicines

Always take your medicines exactly as they have been prescribed by your doctor. This is important to make sure they work as well as possible for you.

If you find it difficult to remember what drugs to take and when to take them, you can use a pill organiser (dosette box) or a calendar blister pack.

Pill organisers have boxes for the day and time your medicines should be taken. You can get them from most pharmacies, but your GP has to arrange it. You, a family member, friend or carer will need to fill the pill organiser with your medicines.

Calendar blister packs come pre-prepared by the pharmacy. They have the day and time when the medicine should be taken on the pack.

Talk to your hospital team if you think a pill organiser or calendar blister pack will be helpful for you when you go home. You might find it helpful to write down the details of each of your medications.

Key contacts

You will get a list of names and contact details to use if you are worried when you get home. It is important to keep these somewhere safe so you or a family member, friend or carer can use them.

You should also be given telephone numbers for your hospital team in case you need to contact them. Your hospital team will tell you if you need to contact them directly about certain medical worries after you go home. It is important to follow the advice you are given. You can print and use this key contacts table (PDF) to write down their contact details.

Oxygen treatment if needed

If your doctor thinks you need oxygen at home, they will prescribe it for you. You have the oxygen using a face mask or through small tubes that sit under the nostrils (nasal cannula).

If you only need oxygen for short periods of time, your doctor may recommend you use an oxygen cylinder. If you need it for longer periods, the hospital may supply an oxygen concentrator. This is a machine that takes oxygen from the air. If you need oxygen when you go to appointments, you can get a small moveable (portable) cylinder to take with you.

Oxygen can be a fire hazard, so it is important to use it safely at home. Never smoke or use flammable products. Always keep the oxygen more than 6 feet away from flames and heat sources.

You can find out more about oxygen treatment from the British Lung Foundation or NHS.UK.