Bereavement is part and parcel of what it means to deliver quality care at home and housing support services. The Scottish Care report ‘Trees that Bend in the Wind’ published last year spoke eloquently of the experience of frontline workers who built strong and personal relationships with those they cared for in the community, to then be faced with the upset and trauma of loss and the emptiness that comes with death.
In our work here at Scottish Care we have been trying to raise attention and focus on the impact that continual loss and experience of bereavement has upon the mental health and wellbeing of our frontline staff. Compounding this is the reality that there are very few opportunities for staff to be supported in their grieving and to have access to immediate bereavement care and support.
We were therefore very pleased to see a recent publication from Sue Ryder and Hospice UK adding weight to our analysis and concerns. ‘Bereavement support in Scotland’ published in October 2018 highlighted that as many as 53,000 people in Scotland could be missing out on the support which could help to support them in their bereavement. Scottish Care believes there is a particular challenge being faced by those who work every day with those who are receiving palliative care and those who are at the end of life. This is especially true for homecare staff.
The report states:
‘Nearly one third (31 per cent) of respondents say they needed additional support beyond family and friends to manage their bereavement. But:
Only 6 per cent of all respondents accessed bereavement support.
A further quarter (23 per cent) of respondents would have liked support but couldn’t access it because: they didn’t know how (12 per cent); felt uncomfortable asking for it (8 per cent); or couldn’t get the type of support they wanted (3 per cent).’
We need to get better at a structured and national approach to providing bereavement support to the 230,000 people in Scotland who are bereaved each year.
I am therefore pleased to be chairing a group of representatives from national bodies who have started to work on drawing up National Bereavement Standards which we hope will be adopted by Scottish Government and wider stakeholders. To date the group consists of, amongst others, representatives from NHS Education Scotland, the Integrated Joint Boards, Scottish Care, mental health organisations, the Care Inspectorate, Health Improvement Scotland, the Scottish Ambulance Service and voices from General Practice and specialist palliative and end of life care.
It is our hope that we have started a journey which will help to give greater focus to and priority around bereavement across Scotland. As I have stated elsewhere:
‘Good bereavement support is no optional extra, it is rather fundamental to a society basing its character on dignity and human rights. Good bereavement support renews and restores, it can give a sense of purpose and direction, for many it’s what has literally saved their lives.
‘I fear that if as a society in Scotland we fail to enable and resource those who do the work of care to grieve properly and to enrich them through good bereavement support then we are sowing the seeds of a harvest of regret and despair.’
Dr Donald Macaskill