NEL is supporting Barts Health NHS Trust with a COVID-19 Bereavement Survey. The telephone survey is being conducted by a range of staff in Barts Health from across different teams and they are contacting a proportion of relatives who were bereaved during the pandemic.

This work developed after the realisation that all feedback to the trust, including the routine bereavement questionnaire, had halted.  This then made it impossible to understand the impact of changes to the trusts’ approach to working with bereaved families.

Following the government instructions in March, to stay at home, no visitors were permitted to visit any of the hospital sites, except in exceptional circumstances, due to the COVID19 Pandemic. There was also the recognition that when relatives were not able to visit patients prior to death, that this can be particularly traumatic and can have implications for the bereavement process.

Anecdotal conversations with the site bereavement services also suggested that many families were struggling with the changes, and this was adversely affecting their experience during a significant life event.

NEL developed the telephone survey questionnaire in collaboration with staff in the bereavement services to evaluate several emerging issues:

  • Lack of visiting;
  • Difficulties with communication and receiving information from staff;
  • Not being able to view their relative after death; and
  • Collection of, and missing property.

These issues form the thematic areas of the survey.

The survey adopts a conversational approach with open questions, allowing for a narrative discussion. The interviews are conducted no earlier than three to four weeks after the death, and each interview is also an opportunity to offer support and signpost relatives to other agencies.

Barts Health Performance Team assisted in identifying the number of COVID and non-COVID deaths from March to the 23 May 2020, so the services changes applied to people who died from any diagnosis. With support from the NEL CSU team a sample 87 interviewees were identified, giving a 95 per cent confidence in the results and a 20% margin of error.

Experienced staff that are familiar with conducting difficult and complex conversations have been recruited from several trust departments including complaints, bereavement and organ donation teams, and are helping with up to ten interviews each. Weekly support is provided, and a short training session was offered before the interviews started.

All interviews will be complete by mid-June as this information is vital to the trust. NEL expects there will be learning and a better understanding of the issues that bereaved families have faced, which will inform future service provision.

For further information please contact:

  • Alison Hill, Director of Cancer and Palliative Care Nursing, Barts Health;
  • Jan Annan, Associate Director of Improvement & Service Transformation, NEL;