This paper reports results from a national survey in 1999 of voluntary hospice services in the UK. It focuses on volunteer and staff views of the purposes of hospice care, and on current debates within palliative care. Twenty-five hospice services, stratified by region, services provided (inpatient care, day care and/or home care) and number of beds were randomly sampled from amongst 175 voluntary hospices in the UK. Nineteen participated. Seventy per cent of a random sample of professional and voluntary staff within these hospices returned a postal questionnaire. Both volunteers and professionals considered care of the whole person, pain and symptom control, quality of life and dying peacefully to be important aspects of hospice care. Most doctors chose care of the whole person as the most important aspect, and they were more likely to choose this option than other staff. Hospice volunteers were less positive than hospice staff (particularly doctors and nurses) in their attitudes to extending hospice care to noncancer patients (where many volunteers held no strong view), to restricting care to patients with specialist palliative care needs, and less negative about euthanasia. These findings illustrate the importance of including hospice volunteers and the general public, as well as hospice staff, in debates about the future of hospice and palliative care in the UK. Further research is needed into lay and professional views of the role of hospices and palliative care services.