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Delirium screening practice in specialist palliative care units: a survey


Objectives Delirium is common and distressing in palliative care settings. This survey aims to describe current practice regarding delirium identification in specialist palliative care units (SPCU), such as inpatient hospices, in the UK.

Methods An 18-item anonymous online survey was distributed by Hospice UK to their network of clinical leads (n=223), and to their research mailing list (n=228). The survey was also sent to the chair of the Hospice UK executive clinical leads forum for direct dissemination to forum representatives (n=20). Clinical leads and forum representatives were asked to distribute the survey to healthcare staff in their SPCUs.

Results 220 SPCU staff (48% nurses; 31% doctors; 10% healthcare assistants) completed the survey. Approximately half reported using clinical judgement alone to screen (97/204; 48%) and/or diagnose (124/220; 56%) delirium. Over a third used an assessment tool to screen for delirium (76/204; 37%). The majority (150/220; 68%) reported screening in response to clinical symptoms, while few reported routine on-admission (11/220; 5%) or daily-during-admission (12/220; 6%) screening. Most respondents had received some training on delirium (137/220; 62%). However, 130/220 (59%) said their SPCU did not have a training programme for delirium screening and only 79/220 (36%) reported that their SPCU had delirium clinical guidelines. The main barriers to routine screening included: lack of delirium training, lack of guidelines and complexity of patient’s conditions.

Conclusion There is variation in practice for delirium screening and diagnosis in SPCUs. Clinical guidelines for delirium, including consensus on which screening tools to use, are needed for this setting.

  • delirium
  • hospice care
  • terminal care

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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