The COVID-19 pandemic poses numerous – and substantial – ethical challenges to health and healthcare. Debate continues about whether there is adequate protective equipment, testing and monitoring, and about when a vaccine might become available and social restrictions might be lifted. The thorny dilemmas posed by triage and resource allocation also attract considerable attention, particularly access to intensive care resources, should demand outstrip supply.
But the “COVID fog” clouds more than the intensive care unit. The provision and uptake of non-COVID related treatment is declining, due to the de-prioritisation of some services and interventions, alongside non-COVID patients’ fears of contracting the virus; difficult conversations are being held in suboptimal circumstances; and final farewells and death rituals have been disrupted. Healthcare personnel, meanwhile, are facing moral distress and, for some, difficulties arising from undertaking new roles in unfamiliar settings.
Objectives: To map current practice regarding discussions around resuscitation across England and Scotland in patients with cancer admitted acutely to hospital and to demonstrate the value of medical students in rapidly collecting national audit data.
Methods: Collaborators from the Macmillan medical student network collected data from 251 patient encounters across eight hospitals in England and Scotland. Data were collected to identify whether discussion regarding resuscitation was documented as having taken place during inpatient admission to acute oncology. As an audit standard, it was expected that all patients should be invited to discuss resuscitation within 24 hr of admission.
Results: Resuscitation discussions were had in 43.1% of admissions and of these 64.0% were within 24 hr; 27.6% of all admissions. 6.5% of patients had a “do not attempt resuscitation” order prior to admission with a difference noted between patients receiving palliative and curative treatment (8.5% and 0.39%, respectively, p < .05). Discussions regarding escalation of care took place in only 29.3% of admissions.
Conclusions: These data highlight deficiencies in the number of discussions regarding resuscitation that are being conducted with cancer patients that become acutely unwell. It also demonstrates the value of medical student collaboration in rapidly collecting national audit data.
OBJECTIVES: Palliative care services have, up to now, paid insufficient attention to social aspects of dying and bereavement and this has affected how patients and their families experience end of life and bereavement within their communities. New public health approaches to palliative care offer a different way forward by seeking to develop communities that support death and bereavement. Such approaches are now a priority for the majority of hospices in the UK and work with schools has been identified as a key area of work. Practice that engages schools and children on issues concerning end-of-life care is, however, underdeveloped and underdocumented. This research explored the role of hospices in working with schools to promote education and support around end-of-life and bereavement experiences.
METHODS: Action research was used to explore the potential for hospices to work with schools and engage participants in change processes. The research was conducted in 1 hospice and 2 primary schools in Scotland. Participants included children, parents and school and hospice staff.
RESULTS: Seven innovations were identified that were found to be useful for the school curriculum and the relationship between hospices, school communities and wider society. A model for integrated practice between hospices and schools is suggested.
CONCLUSIONS: This research adds to knowledge about how hospices might engage in community engagement activities that encourage school staff to develop greater openness and support around end-of-life and bereavement care for their children. This will require a rethinking of normal hospice services to also participate in community capacity building.
BACKGROUND: Key Information Summaries (KIS) were introduced throughout Scotland in 2013 so that anticipatory care plans written by general practitioners (GPs) could be routinely shared electronically and updated in real time, between GPs and providers of unscheduled and secondary care.
AIMS: We aimed to describe the current reach of anticipatory and palliative care, and to explore GPs' views on using KIS.
METHODS: We studied the primary care records of all patients who died in 2014 in 9 diverse Lothian practices. We identified if anticipatory or palliative care had been started, and if so how many weeks before death and which aspects of care had been documented. We interviewed 10 GPs to understand barriers and facilitating factors.
RESULTS: Overall, 60% of patients were identified for a KIS, a median of 18 }weeks before death. The numbers identified were highest for patients with cancer, with 75% identified compared with 66% of those dying with dementia/frailty and only 41% dying from organ failure. Patients were more likely to die outside hospital if they had a KIS. GPs identified professional, patient and societal challenges in identifying patients for palliative care, especially those with non-cancer diagnoses.
CONCLUSIONS: GPs are identifying patients for anticipatory and palliative care more equitably across the different disease trajectories and earlier in the disease process than they were previously identifying patients specifically for palliative care. However, many patients still lack care planning, particularly those dying with organ failure.
BACKGROUND: Care home residents are increasingly frail with complex health and social care needs. Their transfer to hospital at the end-of-life can be associated with unwanted interventions and distress. However, hospitals do enable provision of care that some residents wish to receive. We aimed to explore the factors that influence hospital admission of care home residents who then died in hospital.
METHODS: This study combined in-depth case note review of care home residents dying in two Scottish teaching hospitals during a 6-month period and semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of 26 care home staff and two relatives.
RESULTS: During the 6-month period, 109 care home residents died in hospital. Most admissions occurred out-of-hours (69%) and most were due to a sudden event or acute change in clinical condition (72%). Length of stay in hospital before death was short, with 42% of deaths occurring within 3 days. Anticipatory Care Planning (ACP) regarding hospital admission was documented in 44%.Care home staff wanted to care for residents who were dying; however, uncertain trajectories of decline, acute events, challenges of ACP, relationship with family and lack of external support impeded this.
CONCLUSIONS: Managing acute changes on the background of uncertain trajectories is challenging in care homes. Enhanced support is required to improve and embed ACP in care homes and to provide rapid, 24 hours-a-day support to manage difficult symptoms and acute changes.
OBJECTIVES: There has been a recent drive to embed rehabilitation within palliative care. The concept of rehabilitative palliative care has been advocated to help patients preserve function and independence, through greater patient enablement and self-management. Such an approach requires engagement from all members of the palliative care team. There is a lack of understanding of such viewpoints. The objective of this research was to explore hospice-based palliative care professionals' understanding and perceptions of rehabilitation.
METHODS: Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted. Eighteen hospice-based healthcare professionals were recruited from a hospice in central Scotland. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed.
RESULTS: Overall, participants clearly articulated the underlying values and benefits of rehabilitative palliative care. Emphasis was placed on ensuring that rehabilitation was appropriately tailored to each individual patient. There was more ambiguity regarding the pragmatic implementation of rehabilitative palliative care, with a number of barriers and facilitators identified.
CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that hospice-based palliative care professionals would be receptive to further implementation of rehabilitative palliative care. A lack of conceptual clarity among palliative care professionals may be a barrier to the effective implementation of rehabilitative palliative care. At an organisational level, this would require clarification of the approach, and additional training involving all members of the multidisciplinary team.
Sur les bords du Loch Ness, Willy, un jeune Ecossais, tente de composer une complainte pour rendre hommage à son père. Pourtant, il n'est pas très doué et les sons qui s'échappent de sa cornemuse n'ont rien de mélodieux. Sa pauvreté et ses piètres qualités de musicien font aussi de lui le souffre-douleur des enfants du village. Mais un matin, alors qu'il se désespère, un cygne s'approche...
BACKGROUND: Electronic care coordination systems, known as the Key Information Summary (KIS) in Scotland, enable the creation of shared electronic records available across healthcare settings. A KIS provides clinicians with essential information to guide decision making for people likely to need emergency or out-of-hours care.
AIM: To estimate the proportion of people with an advanced progressive illness with a KIS by the time of death, to examine when planning information is documented, and suggest improvements for electronic care coordination systems.
DESIGN AND SETTING: This was a mixed-methods study involving 18 diverse general practices in Scotland.
METHOD: Retrospective review of medical records of patients who died in 2017, and semi-structured interviews with healthcare professionals were conducted.
RESULTS: Data on 1304 decedents were collected. Of those with an advanced progressive illness (79%, n = 1034), 69% (n = 712) had a KIS. These were started a median of 45 weeks before death. People with cancer were most likely to have a KIS (80%, n = 288), and those with organ failure least likely (47%, n = 125). Overall, 68% (n = 482) of KIS included resuscitation status and 55% (n = 390) preferred place of care. People with a KIS were more likely to die in the community compared to those without one (61% versus 30%). Most KIS were considered useful/highly useful. Up-to-date free-text information within the KIS was valued highly.
CONCLUSION: In Scotland, most people with an advanced progressive illness have an electronic care coordination record by the time of death. This is an achievement. To improve further, better informal carer information, regular updating, and a focus on generating a KIS for people with organ failure is warranted.
BACKGROUND: Global annual deaths are rising. It is essential to examine where future deaths may occur to facilitate decisions regarding future service provision and resource allocation.
AIMS: To project where people will die from 2017 to 2040 in an ageing country with advanced integrated palliative care, and to prioritise recommendations based on these trends.
METHODS: Population-based trend analysis of place of death for people that died in Scotland (2004-2016) and projections using simple linear modelling (2017-2040); Transparent Expert Consultation to prioritise recommendations in response to projections.
RESULTS: Deaths are projected to increase by 15.9% from 56,728 in 2016 (32.8% aged 85+ years) to 65,757 deaths in 2040 (45% aged 85+ years). Between 2004 and 2016, proportions of home and care home deaths increased (19.8-23.4% and 14.5-18.8%), while the proportion of hospital deaths declined (58.0-50.1%). If current trends continue, the numbers of deaths at home and in care homes will increase, and two-thirds will die outside hospital by 2040. To sustain current trends, priorities include: 1) to increase and upskill a community health and social care workforce through education, training and valuing of care work; 2) to build community care capacity through informal carer support and community engagement; 3) to stimulate a realistic public debate on death, dying and sustainable funding.
CONCLUSION: To sustain current trends, health and social care provision in the community needs to grow to support nearly 60% more people at the end-of-life by 2040; otherwise hospital deaths will increase.
Background: Palliative care aims to support people to live actively until death. A rehabilitative approach which includes goal setting could be an important way of achieving this. Goal setting is well established in best practice guidelines for palliative care. However little is known about how the process of goal setting actually happens in practice, especially from patients’ points of view. We aimed to investigate patients’ expectations, experience and perceptions of goal setting in one hospice.
Methods: We conducted 15 semi-structured interviews with a sample of patients who had been admitted to a Scottish hospice for symptom control. Interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using Framework Analysis.
Results: Participants understood and valued goal setting but did not always share their goals with hospice staff. These were often participants’ own personal activity-based goals that they worked on in parallel, but not always in partnership with hospice professionals. Participants were able to adapt their goals as their situation changed.
Conclusions: Our findings revealed a gap between the goals that participants identified and worked towards compared with those that participants perceived the professionals focussed on. As a result, opportunities were missed for patients and professionals to work together to achieve goals.
In the UK, life extending, end-of-life (EoL) treatments are an exception to standard cost-per-quality-adjusted life year (QALY) thresholds. This implies that greater value is placed on gaining these QALYs, than QALYs gained by the majority of other patient groups treated for anything else in the health system, even for other EoL contexts (such as quality of life (QoL) improvements alone). This paper reports a Person Trade-Off (PTO) study to test whether studies that find societal support for prioritising EoL life extensions can be explained by the severity, in terms of prospective QALYs loss, of the non-terminal comparator scenarios. Eight health scenarios were designed depicting i) QoL improvements for non-EoL temporary (T-QoL) and chronic (C-QoL) health problems and ii) QoL improvements and life extensions (LEs) for EoL health problems. Preferences were elicited from a quota sample of 901 Scottish respondents in 2016 using PTO techniques via Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI). Our results indicate that there is little evidence to suggest that the severity of non-EoL comparator scenarios influence preferences for EoL treatments. Respondents do not appear to have a preference for EoL over non-EoL health gains; instead there is some indication that non-EoL health gains are preferred, particularly when compared to EoL-LE health gains. Comparing between QoL and life extending EoL scenarios, our results suggest QoL improvements are preferred to life extensions. Overall, results challenge current UK EoL policy which gives additional weight to EoL health gains, particularly EoL life extensions in the case of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
BACKGROUND: Goal setting is recognised as an important way of supporting people to live as actively as possible until death. However, there is little agreement about how goal setting should be handled or delivered by health professionals in everyday practice.
AIM: To investigate health-care practitioners' understanding and practice of patient-centred goal setting in a hospice.
METHODS: A comparative case study of 10 healthcare practitioners in one hospice. Non-participant observations (n=28), semi-structured interviews (n=10) and case-note analysis (n=67) were undertaken. Data were analysed using framework analysis.
RESULTS: Participants viewed goal setting as part of routine practice. However, goal setting focused around what was seen as important from the health practitioner's perspective, rather than being patient-centred. Participants' goal-setting practice was implicit and opportunities to support patients to pursue goals were missed. Participants emphasised problem solving and alleviating symptoms rather than focusing on patient priorities and establishing patient-centred goals.
CONCLUSION: While goal setting is valued, it is practiced in an implicit, practitioner-centred and inconsistent manner. A more explicit, person-centred goal setting process may support practitioners more consistently in helping patients to identify their priorities and enhance their quality of life.
OBJECTIVES: Patients with indicators for palliative care, such as those with advanced life-limiting conditions, are at risk of futile cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if they suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA). Patients at risk of futile CPR could benefit from anticipatory care planning (ACP); however, the proportion of OHCA patients with indicators for palliative care is unknown. This study quantifies the extent of palliative care indicators and risk of CPR futility in OHCA patients.
METHODS: A retrospective medical record review was performed on all OHCA patients presenting to an emergency department (ED) in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2015. The risk of CPR futility was stratified using the Supportive and Palliative Care Indicators Tool. Patients with 0-2 indicators had a 'low risk' of futile CPR; 3-4 indicators had an 'intermediate risk'; 5+ indicators had a 'high risk'.
RESULTS: Of the 283 OHCA patients, 12.4% (35) had a high risk of futile CPR, while 16.3% (46) had an intermediate risk and 71.4% (202) had a low risk. 84.0% (68) of intermediate-to-high risk patients were pronounced dead in the ED or ED step-down ward; only 2.5% (2) of these patients survived to discharge.
CONCLUSIONS: Up to 30% of OHCA patients are being subjected to advanced resuscitation despite having at least three indicators for palliative care. More than 80% of patients with an intermediate-to-high risk of CPR futility are dying soon after conveyance to hospital, suggesting that ACP can benefit some OHCA patients. This study recommends optimising emergency treatment planning to help reduce inappropriate CPR attempts.
BACKGROUND: The decision to undergo chemotherapy for incurable cancer demands informed discussions about the risks and benefits of proposed treatments. Research has shown that many patients have a poor grasp of these factors.
METHODS: An evaluation of the patient experience of palliative chemotherapy decision-making was undertaken. Patients with lung or gynaecological cancers were surveyed about their decision, what they understood about its risks and benefits, and how supported they felt.
RESULTS: A total of 29 people with lung cancer (n = 21) or gynaecological cancer (n = 8) completed questionnaires. The majority felt sure about their decision, though many were less sure of the risks and benefits of treatment. Unprompted comments revealed significant nuance, including that the decision to undergo chemotherapy may not necessarily have felt like a choice.
CONCLUSIONS: Our positive findings may reflect participant selection bias, or could represent genuine comfort in decision-making in Scottish oncology clinics. Further research is needed.
BACKGROUND: Depression affects the life of millions around the globe and perhaps also the manner of death. This study examined the role of depression in specific causes of unnatural death and whether alcohol and substance use affect this relationship, in one locality in Scotland.
METHODS: The research used a retrospective case-based study approach to analyse 168 cases, quantifying data reported in mortuary files to allow for quantitative statistical analysis of associations and differences amongst the variables.
RESULTS: A diagnosis of depression was associated with a higher likelihood of unnatural death due to suicide, drugs or homicide. A diagnosis of substance abuse was associated with a diagnosis of depression and with an increased likelihood of death due to suicide or drugs. A diagnosis of alcohol abuse was associated with a reduced likelihood of a diagnosis of depression but was associated with an increased likelihood of suicide.
LIMITATIONS: This study relied on a small sample from one locality in Scotland which limited the ability to generalise the results and the retrospective case-based design also limited the potential for checking data accuracy or to consider temporal relationships, which limited the ability to interpret causality.
CONCLUSIONS: This study found that there was a relationship between depression and unnatural death, which was mediated by alcohol and substance use. The importance of this study lies within the recognition of these relationships which identified the complexities of these relationships but suggested that some unnatural deaths within this population could be prevented.
Background: Cancer affects millions of individuals globally, with a mortality rate of over eight million people annually. Although palliative care is often provided outside of specialist services, many people require, at some point in their illness journey, support from specialist palliative care services, for example, those provided in hospice settings. This transition can be a time of uncertainty and fear, and there is a need for effective interventions to meet the psychological and supportive care needs of people with cancer that cannot be cured. Whilst Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has been shown to be effective across diverse health problems, robust evidence for its effectiveness in palliative cancer populations is not extensive.
Method: This mixed-methods study uses a single-case experimental design with embedded qualitative interviews to pilot test a novel intervention for this patient group. Between 14 and 20 patients will be recruited from two hospices in England and Scotland. Participants will receive five face-to-face manualised sessions with a psychological therapist. Sessions are structured around teaching core ACT skills (openness, awareness and engagement) as a way to deal effectively with challenges of transition into specialist palliative care services. Outcome measures include cancer-specific quality of life (primary outcome) and distress (secondary outcome), which are assessed alongside measures of psychological flexibility. Daily diary outcome assessments will be taken for key measures, alongside more detailed weekly self-report, through baseline, intervention and 1-month follow-up phases. After follow-up, participants will be invited to take part in a qualitative interview to understand their experience of taking part and acceptability and perceived effectiveness of the intervention and its components.
Discussion: This study is the first investigation of using ACT with terminally ill patients at the beginning of their transition into palliative treatment. Using in-depth single-case approaches, we will refine and manualise intervention content by the close of the study for use in follow-up research trials. Our long-term goal is then to test the intervention as delivered by non-psychologist specialist palliative care practitioners thus broadening the potential relevance of the approach.
Trial registration: Open Science Framework, 46033. Registered 19 April 2018.
A significant proportion of secondary school pupils in the UK have experienced the death of someone close. Bereavement in childhood can have a significant and long lasting impact. The aim of this study was to explore how pupils aged between 12 and 18 understand major loss, death and dying, whom they talk to and the support they access at these times, and their awareness of the range of support available to them. A total of 31 pupils, 108 parents and 37 staff from a large Scottish secondary school took part and data was collected using online questionnaires. A high proportion of pupils had experience of major loss or bereavement and showed significant awareness of their feelings and responses to these. It appears that young people primarily seek support from family and friends, but the role of peers is less well recognised by parents and teachers. The school was recognised as a source of support mainly by teachers.
BACKGROUND: The oligometastatic paradigm suggests that some patients with a limited number of metastases might be cured if all lesions are eradicated. Evidence from randomised controlled trials to support this paradigm is scarce. We aimed to assess the effect of stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) on survival, oncological outcomes, toxicity, and quality of life in patients with a controlled primary tumour and one to five oligometastatic lesions.
METHODS: This randomised, open-label phase 2 study was done at 10 hospitals in Canada, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Australia. Patients aged 18 or older with a controlled primary tumour and one to five metastatic lesions, Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group score of 0-1, and a life expectancy of at least 6 months were eligible. After stratifying by the number of metastases (1-3 vs 4-5), we randomly assigned patients (1:2) to receive either palliative standard of care treatments alone (control group), or standard of care plus SABR to all metastatic lesions (SABR group), using a computer-generated randomisation list with permuted blocks of nine. Neither patients nor physicians were masked to treatment allocation. The primary endpoint was overall survival. We used a randomised phase 2 screening design with a two-sided a of 0·20 (wherein p<0·20 designates a positive trial). All analyses were intention to treat. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01446744.
FINDINGS: 99 patients were randomised between Feb 10, 2012, and Aug 30, 2016. Of 99 patients, 33 (33%) were assigned to the control group and 66 (67%) to the SABR group. Two (3%) patients in the SABR group did not receive allocated treatment and withdrew from the trial; two (6%) patients in the control group also withdrew from the trial. Median follow-up was 25 months (IQR 19-54) in the control group versus 26 months (23-37) in the SABR group. Median overall survival was 28 months (95% CI 19-33) in the control group versus 41 months (26-not reached) in the SABR group (hazard ratio 0·57, 95% CI 0·30-1·10; p=0·090). Adverse events of grade 2 or worse occurred in three (9%) of 33 controls and 19 (29%) of 66 patients in the SABR group (p=0·026), an absolute increase of 20% (95% CI 5-34). Treatment-related deaths occurred in three (4·5%) of 66 patients after SABR, compared with none in the control group.
INTERPRETATION: SABR was associated with an improvement in overall survival, meeting the primary endpoint of this trial, but three (4·5%) of 66 patients in the SABR group had treatment-related death. Phase 3 trials are needed to conclusively show an overall survival benefit, and to determine the maximum number of metastatic lesions wherein SABR provides a benefit.
FUNDING: Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and London Regional Cancer Program Catalyst Grant.
BACKGROUND: The aim of this study was to examine, by means of a postal questionnaire, the experience of all grades of doctors caring for patients dying in an acute hospital in Scotland.
METHOD: A postal questionnaire was sent to 306 doctors working in inpatient medical and surgical specialties, emergency medicine, anaesthetics and intensive care medicine in an acute hospital.
RESULTS: There was an overall 41% response rate (127/306). Of responding doctors 55% had cared for 10 or more patients in the previous year. A quarter of respondents had personal experience of bereavement outside of clinical practice within the previous year. A total of 65% of responding doctors agreed that their most memorable patient death had had a strong emotional impact upon them. Responding doctors reported benefit from peer support. There was no association between length of time as a doctor and difficulty rating for talking to patients about death (p-value: 0.203). There was no association between difficulty rating and length of time working as a doctor when talking to relatives about death and dying (p-value: 0.205). We considered the questionnaire responses in relation to Scottish Government policy and initiatives associated with the care of the dying, and the future training and support of doctors caring for this group of patients and their relatives.
CONCLUSION: Doctors describe similar experiences in terms of communication difficulties and emotional effects of caring for dying patients irrespective of their length of time working as a doctor.
This paper reports on research exploring the effects of music played for 12 dyads: a care home resident ('resident') with dementia and someone closely connected to him/her ('carer'). Six individualised music interventions (3 live and 3 pre-recorded) were played by the first author on solo cello within five Scottish non-NHS care homes. All interventions were video-recorded. Semi-structured interviews with carer participants, key staff, and managers explored their responses to interventions. Thick descriptions of video recordings and interview transcripts were thematically coded using Nvivo. A key finding was that structural elements of the interventions combined with characteristics of the music played facilitated an internalised experience of 'haven'; sonically transporting listeners away from their present reality and fulfilling the basic human needs for inclusion, comfort, identity, occupation and attachment.