Background The Covid-19 pandemic has caused c.131,000 excess deaths in the UK to date. During the pandemic, voluntary and community sector (VCS) bereavement services have played a central role in supporting the bereaved. We describe the impact on and response of these services to inform service development and policy.
Methods Mixed-methods explanatory sequential design in two phases: (1) Online survey (March-May 2021) of VCS bereavement services in the UK, disseminated via national organisations, networks and social media; (2) Qualitative semi-structured telephone interviews with staff/volunteers at case study VCS bereavement services (June-December 2021). Interviews explored challenges/innovation in bereavement support during the pandemic, with transcripts analysed using thematic analysis.
Results 147 organisations participated in the survey; 53% were regional, 16% UK-wide. 36% were hospice/palliative care services, 15% national bereavement charities/Non-Governmental Organisations; 12% local bereavement charities. During this period of the pandemic referrals increased for 46% of organisations and decreased for 35%. 78.2% changed services and 51.7% introduced new services (such as online/telephone support). 24 people across 14 organisations were interviewed. Challenges encountered included: rapidly setting up online/telephone provision and consequent changes to the therapeutic encounter; developing new policies/procedures; coping with fluctuating demand and clients’ complex grief responses; supporting staff/volunteers working from home; and a loss of funding. Nevertheless, innovation and positive impacts were reported including: modernisation of services; expanding access for some groups (younger people, men, rural communities); increased cohesion amongst staff; and instigation of local collaborations.
Conclusions UK bereavement services rapidly transformed during the pandemic, despite significant challenges. Important lessons have been learned and providers generally advocate a blended approach for future provision of bereavement support. To ensure positive changes are retained, the experiences and acceptability of new/adapted services among clients and staff require further investigation, while services’ ability to meet demand requires sustained or additional resources.
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