BACKGROUND: Clinically assisted hydration (CAH) can be provided in the last days of life as drinking declines. The impact of this practice on quality of life or survival in the last days of life is unclear. Practice varies worldwide concerning this emotive issue.
METHOD: Systematic literature review and narrative synthesis of studies evaluating the impact of, or attitudes toward, CAH in the last days of life. Databases were searched up to December 2019. Studies were included if the majority of participants were in the last 7 days of life, and were evaluated using Gough's 'Weight of Evidence' framework. Review protocol registered with PROSPERO, registration number CRD42019125837.
RESULTS: Fifteen studies were included in the synthesis. None were judged to be both of high quality and relevance. No evidence was found that the provision of CAH has an impact on symptoms or survival. Patient and family carer attitudes toward assisted hydration were diverse.
CONCLUSION: There is currently insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions on the impact of CAH in the last days of life. Future research needs to focus on patients specifically in the last days of life, include those with non-malignant diagnoses, and evaluate best ways to communicate effectively about this complex topic with patients and their families.
Background: Increasing numbers of people die of the frailty and multimorbidity associated with old age, often without receiving an end-of-life diagnosis. Compared to those with a single life-limiting condition such as cancer, frail older people are less likely to access adequate community care. To address this inequality, guidance for professional providers of community health care encourages them to make end-of-life diagnoses more often in such people. These diagnoses centre on prognosis, making them difficult to establish given the inherent unpredictability of age-related decline. This difficulty makes it important to ask how care provision is affected by not having an end-of-life diagnosis.
Aim: To explore the role of an end-of-life diagnosis in shaping the provision of health care outside acute hospitals.
Design and setting: Qualitative interviews with 19 healthcare providers from community-based settings, including nursing homes and out-of-hours services.
Method: Semi-structured interviews (nine individual, three small group) were conducted. Data were analysed thematically and using constant comparison.
Results: In the participants’ accounts, it was unusual and problematic to consider frail older people as candidates for end-of-life diagnosis. Participants talked of this diagnosis as being useful to them as care providers, helping them prioritise caring for people diagnosed as ‘end-of-life’ and enabling them to offer additional services. This prioritisation and additional help was identified as excluding people who die without an end-of-life diagnosis.
Conclusion: End-of-life diagnosis is a first-class ticket to community care; people who die without such a diagnosis are potentially disadvantaged as regards care provision. Recognising this inequity should help policymakers and practitioners to mitigate it.
BACKGROUND: GPs have a central role in decisions about prescribing anticipatory medications to help control symptoms at the end of life. Little is known about GPs' decision-making processes in prescribing anticipatory medications, how they discuss this with patients and families, or the subsequent use of prescribed drugs.
AIM: To explore GPs' decision-making processes in the prescribing and use of anticipatory medications for patients at the end of life.
DESIGN AND SETTING: A qualitative interview study with GPs working in one English county.
METHOD: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 13 GPs. Interview transcripts were analysed inductively using thematic analysis.
RESULTS: Three themes were constructed from the data: something we can do, getting the timing right, and delegating care while retaining responsibility. Anticipatory medications were a tangible intervention GPs felt they could offer patients approaching death (something we can do). The prescribing of anticipatory medications was recognised as a harbinger of death for patients and their families. Nevertheless, GPs preferred to discuss and prescribe anticipatory medications weeks before death was expected whenever possible (getting the timing right). After prescribing medications, GPs relied on nurses to assess when to administer drugs and keep them updated about their use (delegating care while retaining responsibility).
CONCLUSION: GPs view anticipatory medications as key to symptom management for patients at the end of life. The drugs are often presented as a clinical recommendation to ensure patients and families accept the prescription. GPs need regular access to nurses and rely on their skills to administer drugs appropriately. Patients' and families' experiences of anticipatory medications, and their preferences for involvement in decision making, warrant urgent investigation.
Population ageing has rapidly increased the number of people requiring end-of-life care across the globe. Governments have responded by promoting end-of-life in the community. Partly as a consequence, older spouses are frequently providing for their partner’s end-of-life care at home, despite potentially facing their own health issues. While there is an emerging literature on young-old caregivers, less is known about spouse carers over 75 who are likely to face specific challenges associated with their advanced age and relationship status. The aim of this review, therefore, is to identify and synthesise the literature concerning the experiences of caregiver’s aged 75 and over whose partner is approaching end-of-life. We conducted a mixed-method systematic review and narrative synthesis of the empirical literature published between 1985 and May 2019, identified from six databases: Medline, PsychINFO, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Embase, Sociological Abstracts and Social Service Abstracts. Hand searching and reference checking were also conducted. Gough’s Weight of Evidence and Morgan’s Feminist Quality Appraisal tool used to determine the quality of papers. From the initial 7819 titles, 10 qualitative studies and 9 quantitative studies were included. We identified three themes: 1) “Embodied impact of care” whereby caring was found to negatively impact carers physical and psychological health, with adverse effects continuing into bereavement; 2) “Caregiving spouse’s conceptualisation of their role” in which caregiver’s navigated their self and marriage identities in relation to their partner’s condition and expectations about gender and place; 3) “Learning to care” which involved learning new skills and ways of coping to remain able to provide care. We identified a recent up-surge in published papers about very old spousal caregivers, which now comprise a small, medium-quality evidence base. This review outlines a range of potential lines of inquiry for future research including further clarification of the impact of caregiving on the likelihood of mortality, the incidence of men and women providing end-of-life care amongst this age group, and the role of anticipatory grief in shaping their perceptions of their relationship and their own longevity.
Background: Anticipatory prescribing (AP) of injectable medications in advance of clinical need is established practice in community end-of-life care. Changes to prescribing guidelines and practice have been reported during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aims and objectives: To investigate UK and Ireland clinicians’ experiences concerning changes in AP during the COVID-19 pandemic and their recommendations for change.
Methods: Online survey of participants at previous AP national workshops, members of the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland and other professional organisations, with snowball sampling.
Results: Two hundred and sixty-one replies were received between 9 and 19 April 2020 from clinicians in community, hospice and hospital settings across all areas of the UK and Ireland. Changes to AP local guidance and practice were reported: route of administration (47%), drugs prescribed (38%), total quantities prescribed (35%), doses and ranges (29%). Concerns over shortages of nurses and doctors to administer subcutaneous injections led 37% to consider drug administration by family or social caregivers, often by buccal, sublingual and transdermal routes. Clinical contact and patient assessment were more often remote via telephone or video (63%). Recommendations for regulatory changes to permit drug repurposing and easier community access were made.
Conclusions: The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic for UK community palliative care has stimulated rapid innovation in AP. The extent to which these are implemented and their clinical efficacy need further examination.
Doctors, nurses, and family caregivers worldwide are facing tough decisions concerning the supply and administration of medications to manage symptoms when patients are dying from covid-19 or other conditions in the community or care homes. Proposed changes in practice aimed at ensuring adequate end-of-life symptom control need careful consideration alongside appropriate training and support.
Updated UK advice, including NICE rapid guidance on managing covid-19 symptoms in the community, reiterates the importance of prescribing medications in advance of need for pain, nausea and vomiting, agitation, and respiratory secretions. These drugs may be administered if needed by visiting doctors or nurses, as is already well established in some countries. However, this practice is being overhauled radically in response to the pandemic.
Introduction: Frail older people are known to have low rates of advance care planning (ACP). Many frail patients prefer less aggressive treatment, but these preferences are often not known or respected. Frail patients often have multiple hospital admissions, potentially providing opportunities for ACP.
Objective: To systematically review the literature concerning ACP with frail older people in the acute hospital, with particular reference to: (1) Does ACP improve outcomes? (2) What are the views of patients, relatives and healthcare professionals regarding ACP? (3) Does ACP currently occur? (4) What are the facilitators and barriers to ACP?
Design: Systematic literature review and narrative synthesis. Electronic search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, ASSIA, PsycINFO and Embase databases from January 1990 to May 2019 inclusive. Studies in the acute setting of populations with a mean age > 75 years, not focused on a disease-specific terminal condition were included.
Results: 16 133 articles were retrieved, 14 met inclusion criteria. No studies used an objective measure of frailty. One randomised controlled trial (RCT) found that ACP improves outcomes for older patients. Although 74%–84% of capacitous older inpatients are receptive to ACP, rates of ACP are 0%–5%; the reasons for this discrepancy have been little studied. The nature of ACP in clinical practice is unknown thus the extent to which it reflects the RCT intervention cannot be assessed. The outcomes that are important to patients are poorly understood and family and physician experiences have not been explored.
Conclusions: A better understanding of this area could help to improve end-of-life care for frail older people.
BACKGROUND: Evaluations of complex interventions compared to usual care provided in palliative care are increasing. Not describing usual care may affect the interpretation of an intervention's effectiveness, yet how it can be described remains unclear.
AIM: To demonstrate the feasibility of using multi-methods to describe usual care provided in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of complex interventions, shown within a feasibility cluster RCT.
DESIGN: Multi-method approach comprising usual care questionnaires, baseline case note review and focus groups with ward staff completed at study end. Thematic analysis of qualitative data, descriptive statistics of quantitative data, followed by methodological triangulation to appraise approach in relation to study aim.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Four general medical wards chosen from UK hospitals. Purposive sampling of healthcare professionals for usual care questionnaires, and focus groups. Review of 20 patients’ notes from each ward who died during admission or within 100 days of discharge.
RESULTS: Twenty-three usual care questionnaires at baseline, two focus groups comprising 20 healthcare professionals and 80 case note reviews. Triangulation of findings resulted in understanding the usual care provided to the targeted population in terms of context, structures, processes and outcomes for patients, families and healthcare professionals. Usual care was described, highlighting (1) similarities and embedded practices, (2) heterogeneity and (3) subtle changes in care during the trial within and across sites.
CONCLUSIONS: We provide a feasible approach to defining usual care that can be practically adopted in different settings. Understanding usual care enhances the reliability of tested complex interventions, and informs research and policy priorities.
OBJECTIVE: Hospice at Home (HAH) services aim to enable patients to be cared for and die at home, if that is their choice and achieve a 'good death'. A national survey, in 2017, aimed to describe and compare the features of HAH services and understand key enablers to service provision.
METHODS: Service managers of adult HAH services in the 'Hospice UK' and National Association for Hospice at Home directories within England were invited to participate. Information on service configuration, referral, staffing, finance, care provision and enablers to service provision were collected by telephone interview.
RESULTS: Of 128 services invited, 70 (54.7%) provided data. Great diversity was found. Most services operated in mixed urban/rural (74.3%) and mixed deprivation (77.1%) areas and provided hands-on care (97.1%), symptom assessment and management (91.4%), psychosocial support (94.3%) and respite care (74.3%). Rapid response (within 4 hours) was available in 65.7%; hands-on care 24 hours a day in 52.2%. Charity donations were the main source of funding for 71.2%. Key enablers for service provision included working with local services (eg, district nursing, general practitioner services), integrated health records, funding and anticipatory care planning. Access to timely medication and equipment was critical.
CONCLUSION: There is considerable variation in HAH services in England. Due to this variation it was not possible to categorise services into delivery types. Services work to supplement local care using a flexible approach benefitting from integration and funding. Further work defining service features related to patient and/or carer outcomes would support future service development.
BACKGROUND: Palliative and end-of-life care is a core competency for doctors and is increasingly recognised as a key clinical skill for junior doctors. There is a growing international movement to embed palliative care education in medical student and junior doctor education. To date there has been no review of the literature concerning the views and experiences of junior doctors delivering this care.
AIM: To review the published literature between 2000 and 2019 concerning junior doctors' experience of palliative and end-of-life care.
METHODS: Systematic literature review and narrative synthesis.
RESULTS: A search of six databases identified 7191 titles; 34 papers met the inclusion criteria, with a further 5 identified from reference searching. Data were extracted into a review-specific extraction sheet and a narrative synthesis undertaken. Three key themes were identified: (1) 'Significance of death and dying': all papers found that junior doctors care for many patients approaching the end of life, and this often causes emotional distress and can leave persisting memories for many years afterwards; (2) 'Thrown in at the deep end': junior doctors feel unprepared and unsupported in providing palliative and end-of-life care; and (3) 'Addressing the gaps': junior doctors often experience a medical culture of disengagement towards dying patients and varying attitudes of senior doctors. Subsequently they have to learn the skills needed through seeking their own opportunities.
CONCLUSION: Medical education needs to change in order to better prepare and support junior doctors for their role in caring for dying patients. This education needs to focus on their knowledge, skills and attitudes.
Background: Enabling death at home remains an important priority in end-of-life care policy. However, hospital continues to be a more prevalent place of death than home in the UK, with admissions at the end-of-life often negatively labelled. Admissions are frequently attributed to an unsuitable home environment, associated with inadequate family care provision and insufficient professional care delivery.
Aim: To understand problems in professional and lay care provision that discourage death at home and lead to hospital admissions at the end of life.
Design and setting: A qualitative study of admission to a large English hospital of patients close to the end of their life.
Method: Retrospective in-depth semi-structured interviews with healthcare professionals (n = 30) and next-of-kin (n = 3) involved in an admission. Interviews addressed why older patients (>65 years) close to the end of life are admitted to hospital. Interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically.
Results: Home-based end-of-life care appeared precarious. Hospital admission was considered by healthcare staff when there was insufficient nursing provision, or where family support, which was often extensive but under supported, was challenged. In these circumstances, home was not recognised to be a suitable place of care or death, justifying seeking care provision elsewhere.
Conclusion: Challenges in home care provision led to hospital admissions. Home end-of-life care depended on substantial input from family and professional carers, both of which were under-resourced. Where either care was insufficient to meet the needs of patients, home was no longer deemed to be desirable by healthcare staff and hospital care was sought.
Experience-based design, co-design, and experience-based co-design can be used within healthcare to design services that improve the patient, carer and staff experience of the services. As palliative and end-of-life care centrally value person-centred care, we believe that service designers, commissioners and those tasked with making quality improvements will be interested in this growing field. This paper outlines these approaches-with a particular emphasis on experience-based co-design-and describes how they are and can be used within palliative and end-of-life care. Based on a rapid review and several case studies, this article highlights the key lessons learnt from previous projects using these approaches and discusses areas for improvement in current reporting of service design projects.
BACKGROUND: Effective training at medical school is essential to prepare new doctors to safely manage patients with palliative care (PC) and end of life care (EOLC) needs. The contribution of undergraduate PC course organisers is central but their collective views regarding role are unknown.
OBJECTIVE: To survey attitudes of PC course organisers regarding their course, organisation, the adequacy of training provided and level of personal satisfaction.
METHODS: An anonymised, multifactorial, web-based questionnaire was devised, tested, modified and then sent to lead PC course organisers at all UK medical schools.
RESULTS: Data were obtained from all 30 UK medical schools. Organisers agreed/strongly agreed (=agreed) that their PC course was highly rated by students (26, 87%). 25 (83%) agreed their course 'enabled misconceptions and fears about PC, death, dying and bereavement to be addressed', 'delivered quality PC training' (23, 77%), 'fulfilled General Medical Council requirements' (19, 63%), 'prepared students well to care for patients with PC/EOLC needs' (18, 60%) and 'enabled students to visit a hospice and see the role of doctors in caring for the dying' (17, 57%). Concerns were limited capacity to accommodate students (agreed 20, 66%) and variability in teaching according to location (15, 50%). Most agreed their institution recognised PC training as important (22, 73%), they felt supported by colleagues (21, 70%) and experienced cooperation between stakeholders (20, 67%). All agreed that PC training was essential for undergraduates, while 29 (97%) supported inclusion of a hospice visit in the curriculum. 27 agreed that their role was satisfying (90%), 3 disagreed (10%).
CONCLUSIONS: Approximately two-thirds of organisers were generally positive about their PC course, institution and role. A minority expressed concerns; these may reflect suboptimal PC training at their medical school and poor preparation of new doctors.
OBJECTIVES: During their careers, all doctors will be involved in the care of the dying, and this is likely to increase with current demographic trends. Future doctors need to be well-prepared for this. Little is known about medical students' expectations about providing palliative care. Our aim was to investigate how satisfying students expect palliative care to be, and any attitudes towards palliative care associated with a negative expectation.
METHODS: Fifteen UK medical schools participated in the study, with 1898 first and final year students completing an online questionnaire which investigated how satisfying they expect providing palliative care to be and their attitudes towards palliative care.
RESULTS: At both the beginning and end of their training, a significant proportion of students expect palliative care to be less satisfying than other care (19.3% first year, 16% final year). Students expecting palliative care to be less satisfying were more likely to be men, and their attitudes suggest that while they understand the importance of providing palliative care they are concerned about the potential impact of this kind of work on them personally.
CONCLUSIONS: Medical student education needs to address why palliative care is important and how to deliver it effectively, and the strategies for dealing positively with the impact of this work on future clinicians.
Palliative care is the holistic care of patients with advanced, progressive incurable illness. Palliative care is well recognized as an essential component of medical student curricula. However, teaching is variable within medical schools. Using current literature, these tips aim to highlight key points necessary to facilitate the development and delivery of palliative care teaching to medical students. The key practice points include: clinical exposure to patients with palliative care needs and those that are dying, being compulsory (and integrated) across the course, summative and formative assessments to encourage learning, support from within the university for curricular time and development, visits to a hospice/inpatient palliative care facility, emphasis on clinically based learning later in the course, teaching by specialists in palliative care as well as specialists in other areas including Family Doctors/General Practitioners, innovative teaching methods and inter-professional learning to develop teaching.
Introduction: Primary care has a central role in palliative and end of life care: 45.6% of deaths in England and Wales occur under the care of primary care teams at home or in care homes. The Community Care Pathways at the End of Life (CAPE) study investigated primary care provided for patients in the final 6 months of life. This paper highlights the opportunities and challenges associated with primary palliative care research in the UK, describing the methodological, ethical, logistical and gatekeeping challenges encountered in the CAPE study and how these were addressed.
The study methods: Using a mixed-methods approach, quantitative data were extracted from the general practitioner (GP) and district nurse (DN) records of 400 recently deceased patients in 20 GP practices in the East of England. Focus groups were conducted with some GPs and DNs, and individual interviews held with bereaved carers and other GPs and DNs.
The challenges addressed Considerable difficulties were encountered with ethical permissions, with GP, DN and bereaved carer recruitment and both quantitative and qualitative data collection. These were overcome with flexibility of approach, perseverance of the research team and strong user group support. This enabled completion of the study which generated a unique primary palliative care data set.
BACKGROUND: The anticipatory prescribing of injectable medications to provide end-of-life symptom relief is an established community practice in a number of countries. The evidence base to support this practice is unclear.
AIM: To review the published evidence concerning anticipatory prescribing of injectable medications for adults at the end of life in the community.
DESIGN: Systematic review and narrative synthesis. Registered in PROSPERO: CRD42016052108, on 15 December 2016 ( https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=52108 ).
DATA SOURCES:: Medline, CINAHL, Embase, PsycINFO, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, King's Fund, Social Care Online, and Health Management Information Consortium databases were searched up to May 2017, alongside reference, citation, and journal hand searches. Included papers presented empirical research on the anticipatory prescribing of injectable medications for symptom control in adults at the end of life. Research quality was appraised using Gough's 'Weight of Evidence' framework.
RESULTS: The search yielded 5099 papers, of which 34 were included in the synthesis. Healthcare professionals believe anticipatory prescribing provides reassurance, effective symptom control, and helps to prevent crisis hospital admissions. The attitudes of patients towards anticipatory prescribing remain unknown. It is a low-cost intervention, but there is inadequate evidence to draw conclusions about its impact on symptom control and comfort or crisis hospital admissions.
CONCLUSION: Current anticipatory prescribing practice and policy is based on an inadequate evidence base. The views and experiences of patients and their family carers towards anticipatory prescribing need urgent investigation. Further research is needed to investigate the impact of anticipatory prescribing on patients' symptoms and comfort, patient safety, and hospital admissions.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the concordance between dates of death recorded in UK primary care and national mortality records.
METHODS: UK primary care data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink were linked to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, for 118 571 patients who died between September 2010 and September 2015. Logistic regression was used to examine factors associated with discrepancy in death dates between data sets.
RESULTS: Death dates matched in 76.8% of cases with primary care dates preceding ONS date in 2.9%, and following in 20.3% of cases; 92.2% of cases differed by <2 weeks. Primary care date was >4 weeks later than ONS in 1.5% of cases and occurred more frequently with deaths categorised as 'external' (15.8% vs 0.8% for cancer), and in younger patients (15.9% vs 1% for 18-29 and 80-89 years, respectively). General practices with the greatest discrepancies (97.5th percentile) had around 200 times higher odds of recording substantially discordant dates than practices with the lowest discrepancies (2.5th percentile).
CONCLUSION: Dates of death in primary care records often disagree with national records and should be treated with caution. There is marked variation between practices, and studies involving young patients, unexplained deaths and where precise date of death is important are particularly vulnerable to these issues.
BACKGROUND: Discharge from inpatient palliative care units to long-term care can be challenging. In the United Kingdom, hospice inpatients move to a care home if they no longer require specialist palliative care and cannot be discharged home. There is evidence to suggest that patients and families find the prospect of such a move distressing.
AIM: To investigate the issues that arise when patients are transferred from hospice to care home at the end of life, from the perspective of the hospice multidisciplinary team.
DESIGN: A qualitative study, using thematic analysis to formulate themes from focus group discussions with hospice staff.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Five focus groups were conducted with staff at five UK hospices. Participants included multidisciplinary team members involved in discharge decisions. All groups had representation from a senior nurse and doctor at the hospice, with group size between three and eight participants. All but one group included physiotherapists, occupational therapists and family support workers.
RESULTS: A major focus of group discussions concerned dilemmas around discharge. These included (1) ethical concerns (dilemmas around the decision, lack of patient autonomy and allocation of resources); (2) communication challenges; and (3) discrepancies between the ideals and realities of hospice palliative care.
CONCLUSION: Hospice palliative care unit staff find discharging patients to care homes necessary, but often unsatisfactory for themselves and distressing for patients and relatives. Further research is needed to understand patients' experiences concerning moving to care homes for end of life care, in order that interventions can be implemented to mitigate this distress.
BACKGROUND: Hospital admissions for end-of-life patients, particularly those who die shortly after being admitted, are recognised to be an international policy problem. How patients come to be transferred to hospital for care, and the central role of decisions made by ambulance staff in facilitating transfer, are under-explored.
AIM: To understand the role of ambulance staff in the admission to hospital of patients close to the end of life.
DESIGN: Qualitative interviews, using particular patient cases as a basis for discussion, analysed thematically.
PARTICIPANTS/SETTING: Ambulance staff ( n = 6) and other healthcare staff (total staff n = 30), involved in the transfer of patients (the case-patients) aged more than 65 years to a large English hospital who died within 3 days of admission with either cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or dementia.
RESULTS: Ambulance interviewees were broadly positive about enabling people to die at home, provided they could be sure that they would not benefit from treatment available in hospital. Barriers for non-conveyance included difficulties arranging care particularly out-of-hours, limited available patient information and service emphasis on emergency care.
CONCLUSION: Ambulance interviewees fulfilled an important role in the admission of end-of-life patients to hospital, frequently having to decide whether to leave a patient at home or to instigate transfer to hospital. Their difficulty in facilitating non-hospital care at the end of life challenges the negative view of near end-of-life hospital admissions as failures. Hospital provision was sought for dying patients in need of care which was inaccessible in the community.