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38 What a difference a systematic review makes
  1. Mala Mann1,2,
  2. Emily Harrop2 and
  3. Anthony Byrne2
  1. 1Specialist Unit for Review Evidence (SURE), University Library Service, Cardiff University, UK
  2. 2Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Centre, Division of Population Medicine, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, UK


Introduction Systematic reviews aim to identify, evaluate, and summarise all the evidence meeting pre-specified eligibility criteria for a given clinical question. However, they face criticisms including long completion timeframes and level of impact. Whilst systematic reviews represent a robust methodology, evidence synthesis must address the challenges of timeliness and impacting at pace on care delivery.

Aims We use the example of a rapidly conducted narrative systematic review on the challenge of supporting large numbers of bereaved people to demonstrate how evidence can be gathered at pace and impact quickly on palliative care practice and policy.

Method We followed Palliative Care Evidence Review Service (PaCERS) methodology1 with narrative synthesis, developed to conduct rapid reviews requested by clinicians/clinical services. A systematic search was conducted on four databases and supplementary search methods were employed to identify additional papers.

Results Six studies were included, reporting on system responses to man-made disasters and natural disasters. Through narrative synthesis we sought to draw consistent lessons from the available evidence. The review was completed in 10 weeks and rapidly published in a peer reviewed journal2 adding to the emergent Covid literature, informing a subsequent UK wide study and provided evidence in support of a national bereavement framework for Wales.

Conclusion The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented research worldwide. Our review highlighted common features for effective service delivery that can be identified for bereavement support beyond the pandemic, which will have a long-lasting impact.


  • Informed the successful funding application and project design for: Supporting people bereaved during COVID–19: a mixed methods study of bereaved people’s experiences and the bereavement services supporting them.

  • Informed steering group discussions for the new National Framework for Bereavement Care in Wales

  • Review published July 2020, up to now 16 citations.

  • Placed at the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric.


  1. Mann M, Woodward A, Nelson A, Byrne A. Palliative care evidence review service (PaCERS): a knowledge transfer partnership. Health Research Policy and Systems 2019;17(1):100. doi:10.1186/s12961-019-0504-4

  2. Harrop E, Mann M, Semedo L, Chao D, Selman LE, Byrne A. What elements of a systems’ approach to bereavement are most effective in times of mass bereavement? A narrative systematic review with lessons for COVID-19. Palliative Medicine, 2020;34(9):1165–1181. doi:10.1177/0269216320946273

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