Family caregivers, who are patientsflrelatives and friends (hereafter called carers), play a significant and arguably most important role in enabling patients to make choices about their place of care during advanced disease and in the terminal phase. Relatively little attention has been directed towards identifying the needs of carers who find themselves in this position and what interventions (if any) might best support them in continuing to provide care to the patient during the illness and dying trajectory. What evidence there is suggests that while some aspects of caring are looked on positively, carers also experience challenges in maintaining their physical and psychological health and their social and financial wellbeing. One common recommendation is that respite facilities be provided. The purpose of this paper is to consider the definitions and assumptions that underpin the term ’respitefland its impact on the physical, psychological and social outcomes of carers in palliative care contexts. We conducted a review of the literature, which involved searching five electronic databases: Web of Science, Medline, CINHAHL, Cochrane Database System Review and Social Sciences Citation Index. The search identified 260 papers, of which 28 related directly to adult respite care in specialist palliative care. These papers were largely concerned with descriptive accounts of respite programmes, guidance on referral criteria to respite services or were evaluating the effects of respite on the patient rather than the impact on the carer. We did not identify any empirical studies assessing the effects of respite provided by specialist palliative care services on carer outcomes. There is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about the efficacy of offering respite care to support carers of patients with advanced disease. We, therefore, draw on the wider literature on carers of adults with chronic disease to consider the impact of respite services and offer suggestions for further research.