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Inequalities in awareness and availability of bereavement services in North-East England
  1. Donna Wakefield1,
  2. Elizabeth Fleming2,
  3. Kate Howorth2,
  4. Kerry Waterfield2,
  5. Emily Kavanagh2,
  6. Hannah C Billett2,
  7. Rachel Kiltie2,
  8. Lucy Robinson2,
  9. Grace Rowley2,
  10. Jolene Brown2,
  11. Elizabeth Woods2 and
  12. Felicity Dewhurst2
  1. 1 Consultant in Palliative Medicine, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, Stockton-Upon-Tees, UK
  2. 2 NEPRRA (North East Palliative Registrar Research Alliance), Health Education North East, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Donna Wakefield, Specialist Palliative Care Team, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, Stockton-Upon-Tees TS19 8PE, UK; donna.wakefield1{at}


Objectives National guidance recommends equality in access to bereavement services; despite this, awareness and availability appears inconsistent. The aim of this study was to explore availability and accessibility of bereavement services across the North-East of England and to highlight issues potentially applicable across the UK, at a time of unprecedented need due to the impact of COVID-19.

Methods Phase 1: an eight item, web-based survey was produced. A survey link was cascaded to all GP practices (General Practitioners) in the region. Phase 2: an email was sent to all services identified in phase 1, requesting details such as referral criteria and waiting times.

Results All 392 GP practices in the region were invited to participate. The response rate was 22% (85/392). Twenty-one per cent (18/85) of respondents reported that they do not refer patients, comments included ‘not aware of any services locally’. A total of 36 services were contacted with 72% responding with further information. Most bereavement specific support was reliant on charity-funded services including hospices, this sometimes required a pre-existing link with the hospice. Waiting times were up to 4 months.

Conclusions Although multiple different, usually charity-funded services were identified, awareness and accessibility were variable. This survey was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, where complex situations surrounding death is likely to impact on the usual grieving process and increase the need for bereavement support. Meanwhile, charities providing this support are under severe financial strain. There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between need and access to bereavement services.

  • bereavement
  • service evaluation
  • supportive care

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  • X @DonnaWakefield_

  • Contributors All involved in planning and executing of the study. DW led phase 1, EF led phase 2. DW and EF wrote final manuscript. Reviewed and agreed by all prior to submission.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.