Case: Covid challenges & opportunities
During the first wave of the pandemic, service adaptations brought both challenges and opportunities to how bereavement care was provided.
Adapting care to online or telephone formats was particularly challenging with limited access to the equipment needed and staff requiring training to use them. Where bereavement services and resources were already insufficient, services struggled to keep up with demand.
Hospices and hospital teams reported widening access to their bereavement support to patients from across the local community or hospital, whereas this had previously only been available to relatives known to the services. In addition, services began to adopt a proactive approach to contacting bereaved people.
Collaborative efforts were described, bringing together local agencies such as hospices, district hospitals, and charities. New services were developed, often telephone helplines or online support that would offer compassionate support and information on local and national services.
Other innovations included allowing families to email pictures to place in patients’ rooms, providing bereaved families with mementoes such as knitted hearts, sending condolence cards, and arranging for the return of the deceased’s property.
Case: Medicalising grief
Concerns of ‘medicalising’ grief were expressed by clinicians, and patients at times also worried that bereavement was not a ‘valid’ reason to visit their GP. Clinicians often experienced ambiguity and uncertainty concerning the extent of their involvement with bereaved patients and could feel hesitant about taking a proactive role.
In addition to this hesitancy to ‘intervene’ into patients’ grief, GPs and nurses described finding bereavement care often emotionally challenging which could contribute to feelings of low confidence and lack of preparedness.
Practitioners with personal experiences of bereavement reported drawing on these experiences to foster a sense of empathy with patients, and which could help bolster confidence in dealing with bereaved patients. Drawing on personal experiences in this way could however make encounters with patients more difficult, by resurfacing practitioners own feelings of grief.
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