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.
There is a growing number of people who need access to high-quality end of life care in the home setting. This requires timely assessments of needs, ensuring good symptom management and recognising the roles undertaken by carers. For some patients, a range of medications may need to be put in place to relieve end-of-life symptoms, using 'anticipatory prescribing'. District nurses must ensure that they acknowledge the patient's voiced preferences and be mindful of the safety issues that arise with the supply of controlled drugs in the home. This article highlights the challenges faced by district nurses providing or dealing with anticipatory prescribing during end-of-life care.
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.