Thematic funding spotlight: Bereavement
Some estimates suggest that the number of deaths directly from, or related to, COVID-19 could be as high as 60,000 already. For many who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, the effects have been magnified by not being able to say goodbye in hospitals or care homes due to distancing rules, and from not being able to mourn properly at a funeral due to limitations on numbers that can attend.
Individuals and organisations with specialist knowledge of bereavement care have been developing services to meet the new needs emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. These services recognise that a bereavement from COVID-19 is likely to be particularly challenging.
In normal circumstances, NHS advice recommends talking to friends, family, health professionals or counsellors and seeking peer support. Under lockdown, these avenues are severely restricted. Without early care, traumatically bereaved people are more likely to develop life-impairing illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mary Williams, founder of Brake, the road safety charity, has launched sudden.org building on the Brake’s expertise in helping people through an unexpected and traumatic bereavement. Sudden.org offers:
- Early intervention: People bereaved in sudden or too-soon ways need immediate and early support for the first 10 weeks of care.
- Case management: Sudden’s professional and clinically supervised case managers manage everyone’s support needs holistically, involving other agencies when needed.
Another leader in this field, Michaela Willis, who founded the National Bereavement Partnership (NBP) after the Bristol heart scandal of the 1990s, has relaunched the charity after a dormant period of 12 years. In April, Michaela was receiving calls from NHS workers who were trying to access the helpline. At that stage, 82 key workers had lost their lives and the national death toll stood at 7,000.
Michaela recognised that the need for bereavement counselling was likely to escalate exponentially and sought help from Richard Lissack, QC and philanthropist, to re-open the helpline urgently. Within three weeks trained counsellors were taking calls.
Meanwhile, recognising the mental strain to which frontline NHS workers have been faced, the NHS has launched our Frontline, a partnership between Shout, Samaritans, Mind, Hospice UK and The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The service offers an online portal and a call centre staffed by experts.
The urgent need for specialist bereavement support has been taken up by the National Bereavement Alliance (NBA), the membership body for organisations that work in the field of bereavement care. NBA is calling for:
- A named Minister with responsibility for bereavement including a cross-departmental strategy;
- A national review of the impact of financial, administrative and economic changes on those who have been bereaved;
- Clarity about who is responsible locally for commissioning and providing bereavement support, with better coordination, secure funding and information about services;
- Training in bereavement for all those coming into contact with bereaved people, at a level appropriate to their role;
- Better bereavement support at work;
- More compassionate communities where everyone knows enough about grief to play their part in supporting people around a death.
Bereavement care and counselling is an area where need has grown substantially as a result of the pandemic. Early intervention is vital, and it is likely that services offered in the emergency phase will need to develop over time to provide long-term support to those who have been affected directly, indirectly or through their work on the frontline of the COVID-10 response.