Pandemic highlights need for end-of-life care investment

Government must respond ‘correctly, compassionately’ to the care of the dying and bereaved during pandemic

Covid-19 is still with us and the Government must invest more in support services for the dying and bereaved as the country comes to terms with living with the virus, the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) has warned.

In its pre-Budget 2021 submission, the IHF said the Government must respond “correctly and compassionately to the issues that have arisen recently in the care of the dying and bereaved”.

“We are still in the grip of Covid-19,” IHF Chief Executive Sharon Foley said.

“The necessary national response has been — and is still — urgent. However, now that we are coming to live with Covid-19, we must meet the challenges presented by dying, death and bereavement in the wake of this pandemic.”

Noting that pandemic restrictions had prevented many people from visiting dying relatives, Foley added: “No time can be lost in planning how we respond to this experience.”

The IHF said the Government must use the next year’s budget to develop a whole-of-government strategy on end-of-life care which would include improvements to end-of-life and palliative care in nursing homes, more support to enable people to die at home or in their place of preference, and the introduction of a national mortuaries programme.

“The recommendations in our submission are practical steps to secure a shared future which takes into account the reality of our common humanity, mortality, care and grief,” Foley said.

With demand for its Nurses for Night Care rising during the pandemic, the IHF said a long-term commitment by the State to fund 50 per cent of the service which helped people with non-cancer-related illnesses spend their final days at home was still not in place.

“The total cost of the service is €3.2 million and a commitment of 50 per cent funding of €1.6m is well overdue,” a spokesperson said.

With more than half of Covid-19-related deaths in Ireland occurring in nursing homes, the IHF also said it had welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the recent Covid-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel, where it recommended the development of a joint Health Service Executive / IHF programme on palliative, end-of-life and bereavement care for the nursing home sector.

Head of Healthcare Programmes at IHF, Siobán O’Brien Green said: “This has been an incredibly distressing time for residents, families and staff in nursing homes and residential care settings. This is an experience that should not be repeated.

“We here at IHF are very willing to contribute our experience and expertise in the development of a dedicated national and sustained programme for the nursing home sector, which is now imperative. We urge the Government to progress and invest in this initiative, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders.”

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