- New research has found the increased need for end of life care has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of GPs and community nurses
- Over half of GPs and district nurses said they have been providing end of life care to more people than usual, due to the Covid-19 pandemic
- In the first 10 weeks of the pandemic deaths at home increased 77 per cent and deaths in care homes increased 220 per cent.
- NHS staff who took part in the research described feeling “left broken”, “emotionally and physically drained” and “frightened coming into work”
GPs and district nurses feel “emotionally and physically drained” as a result of an increased need for end-of-life-care during the Covid-19 pandemic.
New research from the University of Sheffield found that over half of GPs and community nurses said they were having to adapt quickly to provide more end-of-life-care during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The findings have highlighted the toll this has taken on their mental health, with one respondent reporting: “Staff have been left broken and there are symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.”
Dr Sarah Mitchell, lead author of the research from the University of Sheffield and GP, said: “The first ten weeks of the pandemic saw a significant increase in deaths in the community, deaths at home increased 77 per cent and deaths in care homes increased 220 per cent.
“Our research has highlighted the role of primary care practitioners in end of life care during Covid-19, which has been tough and demanding both physically and mentally. GPs and community nursing teams had to step up and adapt quickly to this increased need for end of life care, with district nurses carrying out more face-to-face palliative care”.
“This has had a huge impact on the mental health of primary care staff. Nurses reported that they felt isolated, emotionally drained and frightened coming into work after witnessing high volumes of people dying as well as managing anxiety around Covid infection control.”
Over 500 nurses and GPs who took part in the research also highlighted the drawbacks of providing more palliative care virtually after guidance to decrease face-to-face contact. Their responses highlighted how virtual contact could be confusing for some patients and they felt there was a loss of ‘professional intimacy’.
The findings, published in BJGPOpen, also found that GPs and nurses felt accused that their contribution to community end-of-life care during Covid-19 was undervalued, with a sense that Covid “only existed in hospitals.” The critical role of primary care in community end-of-life care during Covid-19 remains largely overlooked in policy and research.
This is the first UK-wide survey undertaken to understand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on healthcare services involved in the provision of community-based end-of-life care.
The team has received more funding to continue the research and study the ongoing impact as the pandemic progresses. They hope their findings will help inform practice and policy through the next phases of Covid-19 and future pandemics.