Pandemic delays progress on end-of-life strategy - just when it's most needed, meeting hears

Covid-19 has underlined the importance of a Northumberland end-of-life strategy – but there is frustration the pandemic has delayed its development.

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 4:13 pm
A meeting has heard the pandemic is delaying progress on Northumberland's strategy for end-of-life care

In October 2019, Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee heard that a new end-of-life strategy for Northumberland was to be drawn up.

It was recognised that an integrated approach is needed, with the first steps being engagement across health, social care, the voluntary sector and with the public.

An update to the committee’s meeting on September 21 noted while work has taken place on engagement and collecting data, the ambition now is to finalise the strategy by the start of the new financial year in April 2021, a year later than originally hoped.

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There was frustration from members that while Covid-19 had caused the delays, the pandemic has highlighted many of the issues the strategy must address.

Cllr Susan Dungworth, who is on the steering group for the plan’s development, said: “I found it really frustrating that things had to stop and I am concerned that a meeting is still going ahead on the 23rd when no councillors can be involved in that (because of the full council meeting), because I do think it’s important we are part of that discussion, as the local authority provides a lot of what helps make a good death, I would like to think.”

She added: “It’s really hard to talk about end-of-life care and a good death, and to do that in isolation from what people are living through and dying from at the moment, which isn’t going away any time soon as far as I can see, so we urgently need to be thinking about how we can make a death during Covid as good as possible for everyone involved.

“I feel so frustrated about what the current situation is doing to patients, people who are dying and their families and what that damage is going to be like to repair.

“I just see us going back to the situation we were in before with hospitals closed, care homes closed, people cut off from their families, without us taking a breath to think, can we make this a bit better than it is?”

Derry Nugent, project coordinator for Healthwatch Northumberland, said: “We’re really pleased to be part of this group and while it started off talking about the principles, it’s been catapulted into a situation where actually the practicalities are now the most important.

“Any help that we can give now in balancing the need of a pandemic situation and for families and individuals going through this in hospitals and care homes, there’s a need now to look at the balance between the principles and practicalities.”

In response, Dr Andy Sewart said: “It was a real shame that we put a lot of this on hold for the pandemic, because I think there’s never been a greater need for a palliative-care strategy.

“One of the points that was well made was about elderly patients dying alone in care homes and I think that’s been a real tragedy as part of this pandemic and that’s something that we are addressing urgently.”

He added: “People are much more aware of their own mortality at the moment, I think, and people are talking more about death, and that will allow us to have more open conversations, so I do think this is an opportune time to develop this strategy, but we need to reinvigorate it.”

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