Introduction: Improving end of life care is a national imperative. Unsatisfactory care persists particularly in acute hospitals, with shortcomings, variability in communication and advance care planning identified as fundamental issues. This review explored the literature to identify what is known about the barriers to initiating end-of-life conversations with patients from the perspective of doctors and nurses in the acute hospital setting. Method: Six electronic databases were searched for potentially relevant records published between 2008 and 2015. Studies were included if the authors reported on barriers to discussing end of life with families or patients as described by doctors or nurses in hospital settings, excluding critical care. Results: Of 1267 potentially relevant records, 12 were included in the review. Although there is limited high-quality evidence available, several barriers were identified. Recurrent themes within the literature related to a lack of education and training, difficulty in prognostication, cultural differences and perceived reluctance of the patient or family. Conclusions: This study illustrated that, in addressing barriers to communication, consideration needs to be extended to include how to embed good communication practice between patients and health professionals into the culture of this setting. Board level commitment is required to raise awareness of, and familiarity with, policies and protocols concerning communication and end-of-life care. Communication training should include practical skills and tools, opportunities to explore the personal beliefs of practitioners and managing their emotions, opportunities to analyse the local organisational (physical and social environment) and team barriers.