4 November 2021

Hospices “overlooked” during key moments of pandemic

New research from the University of Sheffield highlights the challenges faced by hospices in the West Midlands.

A carer helping an elderly woman stand up
  • Researchers are investigating the impact of the pandemic on hospices, in a bid to use the findings to improve clinical practice
  • Staff in palliative care felt overlooked by the government and media whilst facing shortages of PPE, staff and medicines
  • Some health professionals reported that their work during the pandemic, which went above-and-beyond, had not been adequately recognised

New research from the University of Sheffield highlights the challenges faced by hospices in the West Midlands.

Early findings of a new research project have found that hospices in the West Midlands felt they were “overlooked” at key moments during the pandemic.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield, alongside Warwick and Hertfordshire universities and end of life charity Marie Curie, are investigating the impact of the pandemic on hospices across the West Midlands region, in a bid to use the findings to improve clinical practice.

Dr Sarah Mitchell and Dr Catriona Mayland, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology and Metabolism, have undertaken a scoping report to identify the sorts of issues hospices have faced in the last 18 months.

Health professionals reported feeling that palliative care was overlooked by the government and media, with shortages of essential PPE, medicines, staff and volunteers described as having compromised an already challenging situation. Some said that their work, which went above-and-beyond, had not been adequately recognised.

Dr Catriona Mayland, palliative care researcher from the University of Sheffield's Department of Oncology and Metabolism, said: “The pandemic, almost overnight, shifted the way that hospices have traditionally operated and how they reach individuals and their families. Care needed to focus on meeting the needs of people in their own homes rather than being related to that provided within the structure of a building.

“This research will have wider learning for hospices throughout the country, and within Sheffield, we would look to learn from the findings to help address the needs of our local communities.”

Dr Sarah Mitchell, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology and Metabolism, said: “This research examining a largely overlooked part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, the provision of hospice care, is very much needed. As we move into the next phases of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, the findings will provide valuable insights into how longstanding inequalities in access could be addressed through future models of hospice care.”

The research found long-discussed initiatives to improve cross-service provision and collaboration between hospices in the region were forced to become overnight realities – but not all changes remain or were successful.  Some of those interviewed were also surprised at how much clinical care could be provided at home, but others noted that not every home was a suitable place to provide end of life care.

The team reviewed research literature, interviewed professionals who worked on the frontline during the pandemic, and convened an expert panel including researchers and members of the public. The researchers are now interviewing people with life-limiting conditions, carers, and more hospice staff to explore how they were affected by these issues.

Ruth Driscoll, Marie Curie Head of Policy and Public Affairs, England, added: “The pandemic has seen death rates increase sharply in the West Midlands and across the UK, and more people dying at home than ever before. These trends will continue even as lockdown restrictions are eased and Covid cases fall.  Our ageing population means that demand for palliative and end of life care services in the community will continue to rise well into the future. 

“Charitable hospices play a vital role in delivering palliative and end of life care services to local communities, but they face big challenges in working to ensure everyone has the care and support they need.  This research will provide vital evidence and help ensure lessons are learned from the pandemic about how to ensure everyone has the best possible end of life experience, both now and in the future.”

You can view the early report here.


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