Article Text

Original research
‘A silent epidemic of grief’: a survey of bereavement care provision in the UK and Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic
  1. Caroline Pearce1,
  2. Jonathan R Honey2,
  3. Roberta Lovick1,
  4. Nicola Zapiain Creamer3,
  5. Claire Henry1,
  6. Andy Langford4,
  7. Mark Stobert5,
  8. Stephen Barclay1,2
  1. 1Primary Care Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3Arthur Rank Hospice, Cambridge, UK
  4. 4Cruse Bereavement Care, Richmond, UK
  5. 5Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Caroline Pearce; cmp89{at}


Objectives To investigate the experiences and views of practitioners in the UK and Ireland concerning changes in bereavement care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design Online survey using a snowball sampling approach.

Setting Practitioners working in hospitals, hospices, care homes and community settings across the UK and Ireland.

Participants Health and social care professionals involved in bereavement support.

Interventions Brief online survey distributed widely across health and social care organisations.

Results 805 respondents working in hospice, community, and hospital settings across the UK and Ireland completed the survey between 3 August and 4 September 2020. Changes to bereavement care practice were reported in: the use of telephone, video and other forms of remote support (90%); supporting people bereaved from non-COVID conditions (76%), from COVID-19 (65%) and people bereaved before the pandemic (61%); funeral arrangements (61%); identifying bereaved people who might need support (56%); managing complex forms of grief (48%) and access to specialist services (41%). Free-text responses demonstrated the complexities and scale of the impact on health and social care services, practitioners and their relationships with bereaved families, and on bereaved people.

Conclusions The pandemic has created major challenges for the support of bereaved people: increased needs for bereavement care, transition to remote forms of support and the stresses experienced by practitioners, among others. The extent to which services are able to adapt, meet the escalating level of need and help to prevent a ‘tsunami of grief’ remains to be seen. The pandemic has highlighted the need for bereavement care to be considered an integral part of health and social care provision.

  • palliative care
  • qualitative research
  • COVID-19
  • primary care

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors CP and SB designed and co-led the study. RL, MS, NZC, CH and AL contributed to the study design. CP, JRH and SB conducted the data analysis. CP, JRH and SB drafted the paper. All the authors reviewed and commented on the draft paper and have approved this final version. CP and SB are the guarantors.

  • Funding This study was funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research (grant reference no: 468). SB is also part funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration East of England (ARC EoE) programme (grant reference: n/a).

  • Disclaimer The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR, the NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.

  • Map disclaimer The depiction of boundaries on the map(s) in this article does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of BMJ (or any member of its group) concerning the legal status of any country, territory, jurisdiction or area or of its authorities. The map(s) are provided without any warranty of any kind, either express or implied.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The study was reviewed by the University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee (PRE.2020.094).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Anonymised data are available upon reasonable request.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.