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1 Returning to work in specialist palliative care following personal bereavement
  1. Paul Davies,
  2. Adam Hurlow and
  3. Suzie Gillon
  1. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust


Background During their working career, most people will experience a personal bereavement. Our perception was that a return to work might be difficult in a speciality with high patient mortality rates. Despite this, there is a paucity of evidence concerning the impact of bereavement on palliative care professionals. Staff recruitment and retention remains an on-going challenge requiring optimisation of workforce support.

This study sought to elicit the factors that affect palliative care team-members’ return to work following personal bereavement.

Methods An anonymised questionnaire based survey was distributed to specialist palliative care teams in Yorkshire for completion by clinical staff with patient contact.

Responses were analysed thematically.

Results 408 responses were returned from 857 questionnaires distributed (48% response rate), of which 257 staff members had experienced personal bereavement whilst working in palliative care. Of the 169 who had absence from work: 35% were absent ≤1 week; 46% >1 week and ≤4 weeks; 12% >4 weeks ≤8 weeks, and 6.5% >8 weeks. A number of staff found returning to work challenging. There was significant variation in perceived support from colleagues; managers and organisations.

Broad areas workers found helpful were good communication from managers, flexibility of duties on return to work (including temporary non-clinical roles), sympathetic support from colleagues and access to counselling support from organisations.

Broad areas workers found unhelpful were an absence of meetings and communication from managers, rigid compassionate leave policies and perceived lack of recognition of their loss.

Conclusions There was variation between individuals about factors they perceived to be helpful. This suggests a rigid approach universally applied is unlikely to support all employees. In our opinion, early sympathetic meetings with management offering temporary adjustments to roles (and/or hours), sensitive informing of colleagues and signposting to counselling options is likely to have a positive impact on staff wellbeing.

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