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BMJ. 1990 Mar 24;300(6727):791-3.

What do hospices do? A survey of hospices in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

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  • 1Leicestershire Hospice.



To obtain baseline information about hospice clinical activity.


Survey of hospices by postal questionnaire and telephone interview.


98 Hospices in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland of 111 that had a named matron or senior nurse, including 17 funded by NHS and 81 independent units.


Hospice matrons or nursing sisters in charge, to whom the questionnaire was addressed.


Median age of hospices was 7 years, and those built during the past seven years had a median of 12 inpatient beds. All NHS hospices had some input from a medical consultant whereas 12 (15%) of independent units did not. 72 Hospices had home care teams and 12 of 20 of these randomly contacted by telephone provided 24 hour cover. The median number of whole time equivalent nurses was four, but 6 (30%) of teams did not include a doctor. Wide variations were found in discharge rates (range 1-76%) and throughput (1.7-31.8 patients/bed/year). In units with a full time consultant or medical director throughput was greater and more patients had palliative surgery and became organ donors than in units without (45/48 v 38/50 and 45/48 v 25/50, respectively). With the exception of pulmonary function tests and insertion of nasogastric tubes and indwelling epidural catheters, tests and procedures were used by over 90% of hospices, although sometimes the patient had to be transferred elsewhere.


Respondents from units with a full time consultant or medical director were more likely to choose a "technical" description of their unit, such as "a pain relief centre" than those without, who favoured non-technical descriptions. These differences are likely to increase with the appointment of more fully trained consultants in palliative medicine.

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