Dr Jeff Hanna, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:
'Healthcare professionals have a pivotal role in facilitating vital interactions between relatives and their loved ones. The vast number of deaths that we have seen in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic makes the results and analysis work from our national survey important in helping to provide salient lessons for healthcare professionals supporting families in their grief.'
Public health restrictions have significantly impacted on end-of-life care for dying patients, their families and friends. Bereaved relatives’ described that being unable to visit compounded their distress, especially in the hospital and care home setting. Not being able to visit also impacted on perceptions about how well prepared and supported individuals felt. Despite this, most thought that health and social care teams were doing an exemplary job in the face of huge difficulties. However, lessons must be learned to ensure that practice attenuates to the challenges of the current, and future, pandemics.
Study leads suggest that individual, personal care can be enabled by health and social care professionals who actively and regularly contact family to inform them about their relative’s well-being, care, and treatment, as well as recognise when a patient is approaching the end of their life and communicate this in a sensitive, timely manner to their patient's loved ones. Facilitating family members to be present before death, at a time which is meaningful, was also found to be important.
Recommendations for health and social care professionals during a pandemic
- Protected time for health and social care professionals to regularly inform family members and friends about their loved one’s condition needs to be prioritised
- Health and social care professionals need to be able to recognise when a person is approaching the end of their life, to help prepare the family and enable visits to be facilitated in a timely manner
- Teaching these important aspects of end-of-life care should be prioritised for all health and social care professionals
Dr Catriona Mayland, lead author, Department of Oncology and Metabolism, University of Sheffield, said:
‘We need to be able to listen and learn from bereaved people about the key practices which need to be prioritised and adopted during a pandemic. It is by doing so, that we can help enable meaningful, personalised care even in times where this is extremely challenging.’
Dr Stephen Mason, study co-PI, Research and Development Lead for the Palliative Care Unit, University of Liverpool, said:
‘As with the analysis from our interview studies, the report data here highlights areas for improvement that are achievable, but require considered development and structural support to enable health and social care professionals to meet the needs of those in the last days of life, and their family and friends.’
To read the full paper, Are public health measures and individualised care compatible in the face of a pandemic? A national observational study of bereaved relatives' experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.