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Final farewells impossible for majority of Covid victims, say researchers

04:44 31/10/2020
From Flanders Today

Hospitals and nursing homes are failing the relatives of coronavirus victims, according to a survey carried out by Ghent University Hospital.

Barely one in five of the grieving relatives questioned felt they had been able to say goodbye properly, with many left in the dark about to their loved one’s condition.

“We must continue to focus on good communication with relatives, both in hospitals and residential care homes,” said Liesbeth Van Humbeeck, one of the researchers behind the study. “As far as possible we must give loved ones the opportunity to say goodbye with dignity, from a distance, and to balance what is possible with what is not.”

The survey involved 165 relatives of people who had died from Covid-19 during the first wave of the virus. In half of all cases, death took place in a rest home, with a further 20% in intensive care and 20% in another hospital ward.

The vast majority of relatives said they were unable to say goodbye to their loved ones, whether before death took place (81%) or soon afterwards (75%). In more than half of cases, they were told that it was physically impossible.

Alternatives means of communication were either not possible, or not offered. Only 7% of those surveyed were able to say goodbye over the telephone, and 5% by video call. Yet half said that these options would have helped.

The relatives also said that they were not well prepared for what happened. Nearly one-third said that they received no information about the impending death, while 71% were never told that it was possible that their loved one could die.

One-third said that caregivers did not take their opinions into account when making decisions about the care of their loved one. Only 24% had the name of a contact person they could talk to about their relative.

The survey also found that the coronavirus is affecting the grieving process in other ways. While the majority said they preferred to call on friends (61%) or family members (35%) to talk about their feelings, they also said corona restrictions made them feel less able to connect to both groups.

Only a small percentage said they wanted professional help or outside support, although this should not stop hospitals and homes from offering it. “Health-care providers can proactively lay the ground for good professional support during treatment and palliative care,” Van Humbeeck said.

Meanwhile a broader reflection is needed about how we deal with loss. “The current pandemic reveals that coping with dying, loss and grief is not well rooted in our society,” she said. “We need to look for other ways of parting, comforting and connecting that work for our loved ones, so that saying goodbye together remains a possibility, even during a second wave.”

The research will continue over the coming months. Other relatives of people who have died as a result of the coronavirus are welcome to take part by filling out a questionnaire.

Photos, from top: ©Benoit Doppagne/BELGA, Dirk Waem/BELGA

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)