Introduction Psychological distress is highly prevalent in cancer and palliative care populations. It is underreported and inadequately addressed with wide variability and redundancy in management. We aimed to measure whether there was an unmet psychological need within patients supported by the Palliative Care Team at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Huntingdon. This would be the initial stage in making a case for additional psychological support for the patients here.
Methods We used the validated NCCN Distress Thermometer (DT) and problem list to screen for psychological distress in selected patients. We used a DT threshold score of ≥5 to signify distress that required additional support as well as further categorisation by a traffic light system to determine level of assessment required. Finally, we calculated the Spearman Rank Correlation Coefficient between the DT score and number of emotional problems identified on the problem list to see if this could be used as a proxy for distress levels.
Results 26 forms were returned fully completed. DT scores ranged from 1 to 10 with a mean score of 6.48. 80.8% of patients scored above the threshold score. 65.4% scored in the red category indicating MDT discussions and possible specialist referral may be necessary. The problem list highlighted a wide range of issues causing distress but a weak correlation between number of emotional problems and DT score.
Conclusions We identified high levels of psychological distress in this patient cohort that, following national guidelines, should be addressed. Further work should be conducted to determine the support patients are currently receiving and there should be longer term measurement of DT scores. Due to the success of using the DT screening tool in this project, it would be recommended that it becomes of more routine use by the team throughout patients’ care pathways.
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