BACKGROUND: In the United Kingdom approaching 20% of people aged 85 years and over live in care homes and most will die there. Improving end-of-life care is a government health priority and homes may work with primary care staff and specialist palliative practitioners to provide comprehensive end-of-life care. Consequently effective collaboration between care home and health service practitioners is vital to ensure high quality end-of-life care. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the impact of a training programme to improve end-of-life care in nursing homes, on collaboration between nursing home staff and other health practitioners. DESIGN: Evaluation using survey methods and qualitative case studies. PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: All 95 nursing homes in the first national 'Gold Standards Framework in Care Homes' programme in England were invited to participate in the evaluation. METHODS: A survey of homes' characteristics, the approaches to end-of-life care, and liaison with other services, was completed pre and post programme implementation. Case studies were conducted in a sub-sample of 10 homes to provide important context and depth to the evaluation. RESULTS: Pre and post surveys were returned by 49 (52%) homes. Improved collaborations as a result of the programme were anticipated by 31% of managers. Challenges to collaboration included working with large numbers of general practitioners, out-of-hours services and access to specialist practitioners. Improved collaborations between home staff and health service practitioners were identified by 33% of managers as one of the main programme outcomes. Staff reported increased knowledge of end-of-life care, and enhanced confidence, which in turn resulted in improved communication and collaboration. Post-programme, staff felt more confident initiating contact and discussing residents' end-of-life care with general practitioners and those working in specialist palliative care services. CONCLUSIONS: The Gold Standards Framework in Care Homes programme can contribute towards end-of-life care by helping to improve the quality and quantity of communication and collaboration between nursing home staff and primary care and specialist practitioners. Further research is needed to determine why this was not consistent across all homes.