Transitions to palliative care for older people in acute hospitals: a mixed-methods study

Gott, M. et al. (2013) Transitions to palliative care for older people in acute hospitals: a mixed-methods study. Health Services and Delivery Research, 1(11), pp. 1-138. (doi:10.3310/hsdr01110)

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Background: Improving the provision of palliative and end-of-life care is a priority for the NHS. Ensuring an appropriately managed ‘transition’ to a palliative approach for care when patients are likely to be entering the last year of life is central to current policy. Acute hospitals represent a significant site of palliative care delivery and specific guidance has been published regarding the management of palliative care transitions within this setting.

Aims: (1) to explore how transitions to a palliative care approach are managed and experienced in acute hospitals and to identify best practice from the perspective of clinicians and service users; (2) to examine the extent of potentially avoidable hospital admissions amongst hospital inpatients with palliative care needs.

Design: A mixed-methods design was adopted in two hospitals in England, serving diverse patient populations. Methods included (1) two systematic reviews; (2) focus groups and interviews with 58 health-care professionals to explore barriers to, and facilitators of, palliative care transitions in hospital; (3) a hospital inpatient survey examining palliative care needs and aspects of management including a self-/proxy-completed questionnaire, a survey of medical and nursing staff and a case note review; (4) in-depth interviews with 15 patients with palliative care needs; (5) a retrospective case note review of all inpatients present in the hospital at the time of the survey who had died within the subsequent 12 months; and (6) focus groups with 83 key decision-makers to explore the implications of the findings for service delivery and policy.

Results: Of the 514 patients in the inpatient survey sample, just over one-third (n = 185, 36.0%) met one or more of the Gold Standards Framework (GSF) prognostic indicator criteria for palliative care needs. The most common GSF prognostic indicator was frailty, with almost one-third of patients (27%) meeting this criteria. Agreement between medical and nursing staff and the GSF with respect to identifying patients with palliative care needs was poor. In focus groups, health professionals reported difficulties in recognising that a patient had entered the last 12 months of life. In-depth interviews with patients found that many of those interviewed were unaware of their prognosis and showed little insight into what they could expect from the trajectory of their disease. The retrospective case note review found that 35 (7.2%) admissions were potentially avoidable. The potential annual cost saving across both hospitals of preventing these admissions was approximately £5.3M. However, a 2- or 3-day reduction in length of stay for these admissions would result in an annual cost saving of £21.6M or £32.4M respectively.

Conclusions: Patients with palliative care needs represent a significant proportion of the hospital inpatient population. There is a significant gap between NHS policy regarding palliative and end-of-life care management in acute hospitals in England and current practice.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Richards, Dr Naomi
Authors: Gott, M., Ingleton, C., Gardiner, C., Richards, N., Cobb, M., Ryan, T., Noble, B., Bennett, M., Seymour, J., Ward, S., and Parker, C.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Interdisciplinary Studies
Journal Name:Health Services and Delivery Research
Publisher:NIHR Journals Library

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