Background Rapid, dramatic changes in primary healthcare services occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. More palliative and end-of-life care (PEOLC) in the community and care homes needed delivered in new ways. This study sought General Practitioner (GP) and community nursing views about changes related to PEOLC during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methods A national online survey was developed from current literature, patient, public and key stakeholder involvement and disseminated to GPs and community nurses between 01.09.2020 and 16.10.2020. Fixed response and open free text questions addressed demographics, PEOLC provision, changes, challenges and exemplars of good practice.
Results There were 559 responses (387 (71.3%) community nurses; 156 (28.7%) GPs; 6 ‘role not specified’) from all UK countries. Over half (296, 53.1%) cared for patients dying with ‘confirmed’ COVID-19 and provided PEOLC ‘a lot more’ or ‘a bit more than usual’ to non-COVID patients (322, 58.2%).
All respondents reported increased need to provide family support (339, 60.9% providing ‘a lot’/’a bit more than usual’); a larger proportion of community nurses (252, 66.0%) reported this role change compared with doctors (75, 48.1%, p=0.01). Over forty percent of all respondents reported they were undertaking more advance care planning (266, 53.0%), anticipatory prescribing (227, 56.4%), symptom management (275, 51.1%), death verification (222, 47.8%) and bereavement support (237, 44.6%). Over three-quarters (211, 77.0%) of community nurses had conducted ‘more’/‘a lot more’ face-to-face visits, whereas 53 (34.0%) of GPs had done ‘less’ or ‘a lot less’ (<0.0001).
Qualitative free-text themes relate to increasing end-of-life care workload; changing roles and models of consultation; and emotional impact.
Conclusions Contrasting and potentially conflicting roles emerged between GPs and community nurses concerning their response to the increased demand and complexity of PEOLC during the pandemic. The significant emotional impact, especially for community nurses, needs addressing alongside rebuilding trusting and supportive team dynamics.
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