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13  A rapid evaluation of virtual grief cafés across two national Public Health organisations
  1. Julia Verne,
  2. Nicola Bowtell,
  3. Lynn Deacon,
  4. Sarah Groom,
  5. Julia Robson and
  6. Alexandra Thackeray
  1. National End of Life Care Intelligence Network, Department of Health and Social Care, London, UK


Introduction Restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic adversely impacted bereavement as: visiting the dying, funerals, family meetings, access to bereavement services were disrupted. Pandemic work at Public Health England and Test and Trace was unrelenting. Enforced home working enhanced isolation. Many colleagues experienced difficult bereavements with little access to normal support networks.

Aims To further understand how a workplace grassroots virtual grief café can support the bereaved.

Methods A grassroots group of bereaved staff and/or with bereavement expertise, established virtual bereavement cafes in May 2021, run by staff for staff. MS Teams (video teleconferencing, chat, signposting to resources) provided a safe, supportive meeting space. Facilitated Cafés are held fortnightly, with mental health first aiders present. Ground rules emphasised respect, confidentiality, the validity of all types of grief and all deaths (pre or during the pandemic). Chat and emojis offered support. Post café email and phone follow-up was offered. Additional themed cafés supported: Grief Awareness Week, the Queen’s death, Pregnancy or Infant loss and bespoke sessions run for teams whose colleague had died. A rapid qualitative thematic evaluation to better understand participants experience of grief and how the cafes have helped was carried out in 2022.

Results Between 9–34 staff attend with new participants at each session. All types of grief have been experienced: anticipatory, complicated, cumulative and disenfranchised grief – often in combination. Participants’ feedback has been thematically grouped related to their experience of the Grief Cafes, specific workplace challenges, and the impact of the pandemic on grief.

Conclusions There is a significant level of unresolved and complex grief following the COVID-19 pandemic in working-age people.

Impact Virtual cafes provide critical emotional support in geographically dispersed organisations. They work best linking with and driving compassionate workplace policies.

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