University of Warwick: Hospices “overlooked” during key moments of pandemic

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 Universities of Warwick, Sheffield and Hertfordshire, alongside 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 for people dying now and in the future.

As part of the project researchers have reviewed reflections from health professionals who feel palliative care was overlooked by the government, with shortages of essential PPE, medicines, staff and volunteers described as having compromised an already challenging situation. Some said that the work of hospice staff, who were under more pressure than ever before, has not been adequately recognised.

Huge changes in the way hospices are run across the region were forced to be implemented “overnight”, the findings have also revealed. Those interviewed also commented on the increased provision of palliative care in the home, with some noting that not every home is a suitable place to provide end of life care.

The findings so far conclude more research is needed to truly know the extent the pandemic has had on terminally ill people, their families and hospice staff.

Dr John MacArtney, Senior Research Fellow at the Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands and the University of Warwick, said:

“Hospices across the country have had to radically adapt over the last 18 months, with changes leaving a lasting impact on patients and their families. The impact of these changes on hospices has not been fully assessed, but more importantly, it is not yet known what the effects upon the quality of care and support were for terminally ill people and their carers.

“It is evident that hospice care and support services felt neglected during the pandemic. While there was some financial assistance, questions have been raised by participants about future sustainability of hospice and palliative care funding, with some feeling strongly that hospice services should be state funded.

“The pandemic has challenged what we mean by good quality of care and even how we value life itself; we will be exploring this further in the remaining research project, which we will share later this year and in early 2022.”

Ruth Driscoll, Marie Curie Head of Policy and Public Affairs, England, added:

“Charitable hospices play a vital role in delivering palliative and end of life care services across the West Midlands and the rest of the UK, 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.”