Time to Reflect – Findings from a survey commissioned by Irish Hospice Foundation

an image from the Time to Reflect report

Time to Reflect

It is now four years since we first had to live with the impact of COVID-19 in Ireland. For some, this may feel like a long time ago. But for others, intense feelings of grief are still raw.

Our new report, Time to Reflect, is the findings from a survey commissioned by Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) detailing people’s experiences of end-of-life and bereavement care during COVID-19.

The survey was completed by over 2,200 people across all demographics, on their experiences and views on dying, death and bereavement during the pandemic between November 2021 and February 2022.

333 of those who responded to the survey identified themselves as healthcare workers.  Most were aged between 45 and 54 years old and over 82% of them were female. 93% of the healthcare respondents were white Irish ethnicity and living in a rural location.

The healthcare workers told us about their experiences supporting patients and their families at end of life, many of whom would have worked in nursing home settings during that incredibly difficult time.  Healthcare workers recalled the distress of witnessing so many deaths and family members not being able to visit their loved ones.

Time to Reflect is their story. 

an illustration from the Time to Reflect report

The report asked participants about their perceptions of death and end of life wishes but also to account for their experiences of bereavement during this time. People told us that the pandemic prevented their loved one from having the death they would have wished for. They also said that capped attendance numbers at funerals and social distancing made the bereavement experience even more difficult for families. They missed the comfort of a hug and a shared cup of tea.

A key theme throughout the survey responses was the stress that was faced by healthcare workers during the pandemic and the need for better support for healthcare workers.

“It was terrible to see young staff at the nursing home cry, the foreign staff did not think they would see their own children again and they were exhausted and overcome with so much death in that terrible month.”

Healthcare workers described what they endured during the pandemic and the hardships experienced by their patients and their loved ones:

“Working frontline, it often was harrowing. Watching family members outside in the rain looking in as their loved one dies inside with one member of the family only present. Relatives were often difficult to cross with us, [which worsened] the absolute misery we were feeling.”

an illustration from the Time to Reflect Report of loved ones visiting relatives in Nursing homes during COVID

Healthcare workers described the emotional difficulty they experienced, but also the physical strain and pressure they were under due to the increased number in deaths, public health measures such as social distancing and PPE, and the overall strain on healthcare settings:

“As a nurse, I might’ve had 10-12 patients at a time where the majority of patients were very unwell, so unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to give them the time they deserved.”

Among the key recommendations in the report is the need for continuous training in delivering quality end-of-life and bereavement care for healthcare staff. This recommendation is very much linked to the work of the Caru programme which supports and improves the delivery of compassionate, person-centred palliative, end-of-life and bereavement care to residents and family members in nursing homes. 

It is imperative that the voices and experiences we heard through this report inform and guide our future responses to public health emergencies. We also want to ensure that this report informs the proposed inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are advocating for this to happen.

Time to Reflect Report

Download the full Time to Reflect report to read more the Irish population’s experiences of dying, death and bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the overall findings and recommendations.