Background Deathbed phenomena (DBP) are unusual perceptions reported by dying persons and those around them in the days and weeks leading up to death. These include phenomena such as deathbed visitors, visions and terminal lucidity. However, there has been little UK-based research surrounding this topic. This study aimed to describe palliative care workers’ experiences with and beliefs surrounding deathbed phenomena and identify any implications for clinical practice.
Method An online questionnaire consisting of multiple choice and free text questions. The questionnaire link was shared with staff at 5 UK-based hospices.
Results 104 staff members responded: 13.6% doctors, 39.8% nurses, 43.7% healthcare assistants and 2.9% other; 42.3% Scotland, 27.9% England and 29.8% Northern Ireland. 97.1% of respondents reported at least one DBP, mean of 7.7. There was no significant difference between those who identified with a religion and those who did not. DBP most frequently reported by staff were patients seemingly timing their own death (86.3%, 88/102) and deathbed visitors (74.8%, 77/103). 76.5% (78/102) of respondents agreed that deathbed phenomena are of a spiritual nature with no significant difference in response between those who identified with a religion and those who did not. 70.9% (73/103) of respondents agreed that deathbed phenomena tend to be positive experiences for the patient and 70.9% (73/103) of respondents agreed that DBP tend to comfort the family. 68.3% (70/103) of respondents agreed that formal training would be useful.
Discussion Many palliative care staff report experiences of DBP. These are generally perceived as comforting to the patient and their families. Discussions to encourage openness surrounding these experiences with palliative workers may help staff in responding to patients and families who report DBP.
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