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01 April 2021

How specialist palliative care services have coped in response to COVID-19

Services have been highly adaptive and embraced low-cost innovations during the pandemic.

Stethoscope laid on laptop keyboard next to a paper form on a clipboard and a pen

Specialist palliative care services have been flexible, highly adaptive and have embraced a low-cost ‘frugal innovation’ model in response to the COVID-19 pandemic say researchers.

The CovPall study, published in Palliative Medicine, is a collaborative project between the Cicely Saunders Institute at King’s College London, Lancaster University, Hull York Medical School and the University of York.

It aims to understand the multinational specialist palliative care response to COVID-19 through an online survey of more than 450 hospice and specialist palliative care providers.

As part of the research, Lesley Dunleavy, Professor Catherine Walshe and Professor Nancy Preston from the International Observatory on End of Life care at Lancaster University led on mapping and analysing the types of innovations and practice changes made by specialist palliative care services in response to the pandemic.

Examples included;

  • creating a single point of access for patients, family carers and health care professionals,
  • using communication technology to provide clinical care
  • developing COVID-19 symptom control guidelines and providing training in end-of-life care.

Services reported a number of challenges and concerns when responding to the pandemic that included working within a climate of heightened fear and anxiety, a lack of IT infrastructure, how to sustain out of hours cover without adequate funding and how to keep abreast of the ever-changing situation. There was evidence that services sometimes duplicated guideline and policy development.

The study highlighted that specialist palliative care services need better financial support but also need to build organisational resilience and drive forward innovation through greater collaboration to manage the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic or any future crisis.

The response we have received to the online survey has been incredible. The data have provided insight into the impact of COVID-19 on hospice and palliative care services. This has enabled us to understand how these services have adapted and responded innovatively to the pandemic.

Rachel Cripps, paper co-author and Research Projects & Coordination Assistant

You can read the full paper on the Palliative Medicine journal website.

More information about the CovPall study is available on our website.

In this story

Sabrina Bajwah

Clinical Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Palliative Care

Rachel  Chambers

Cicely Saunders International PhD Training Fellow

Adejoke Oluyase

Research Associate

Katherine Sleeman

Laing Galazka Chair in Palliative Care, Honorary Consultant in Palliative Medicine

Irene Higginson

Executive Dean, Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care