Aim: To establish whether respite care addresses the needs of palliative care service users and carers. Background: Respite care is often described in UK policy and guidance as a key need to providing support for this group and yet little is known about it and there is a lack of research to support its efficacy. Design: The approach was qualitative and the methodology was interpretive. The method used was constructivist grounded theory. Methods: Data collection was carried out by unstructured informal interview with three couples and two bereaved carers who had experienced hospice respite care. Results: Findings showed that respite care is valued by palliative care service users and carers although there are some fundamental tensions in service models which limit its potential. Conclusion: A reframing of respite care as an empathic response within a new palliative care approach is proposed. Within this, the centrality of the relationship is reinforced.