Article Title

Australian specialist palliative care’s response to covid-19: An anonymous online survey of service providers

Abstract

Background: The corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has required specialist palliative care (SPC) services to respond by: (I) integrating infection prevention/control measures into care for their usual caseloads and (II) providing consultations and/or care for people dying from a new disease entity. The aim of the current study was to learn about the response of Australian SPC services to COVID-19 and its consequences in order to inform pandemic practice and policy.

Methods: A cross-sectional, anonymous survey was administered online from May to July 2020. Email invitations were sent to 160 providers delivering 503 SPC services listed in the Australian Palliative Care Services Directory. Survey questions asked about service responses to COVID-19, impacts on care quality, and perceived benefits/disadvantages for palliative care clients post-pandemic. Open-ended responses were thematically coded using an established framework that classifies SPC pandemic responses under: ‘stuff’, ‘staff’, ‘space’, ‘systems’, ‘separation’, ‘sedation’, ‘communication’ and ‘equity’.

Results: Complete survey responses were received from 28 providers on behalf of 100 SPC services (response rates of 17%/20% respectively): 29 consultative, 25 community home-based, 21 outpatient, 15 inpatient wards/units, eight inpatient hospice and two other services. Responses were reported across all framework categories except ‘sedation’. Concerns centred on: inadequate support for self-management, psychosocial needs and bereavement for clients living at home; pressures on staff capacity and wellbeing; and a perceived lack of health system preparedness for a potential future surge. Rapid implementation of telehealth across Australia was perceived to offer potential benefits to palliative care in the longer term, if provided with ongoing support.

Conclusions: Meeting COVID-19-related challenges requires SPC to be agile and responsive. Advocacy is required to ensure the needs of people dying and their families are supported as well as people requiring acute care for COVID-19. Expansion of telehealth during the pandemic presents an opportunity for leveraging to benefit palliative care longer term.

Keywords

corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19), specialist palliative care (SPC), survey

Link to Publisher Version (URL)

10.21037/apm-20-1760

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