How COVID-19 has brought palliative care into sharp focus

Although great strides have been made in allowing the broader public to get a grasp of what exactly palliative care is, many misconceptions still remain about what palliative care entails and what its purpose is.

Chiefly, many people still equate palliative care with end-of-life care, not taking into account the interdisciplinary approach that is part and parcel of the service provided by organisations like HospiceWits. Although many people who receive palliative care are in the final stages of an incurable illness, many others are not. Additionally, hospice care doesn’t only take the needs of patients into account, but also offers support to their families and loved ones – this often takes a practical approach, teaching loved ones how to take care of the patient but, in addition, also provides counselling and spiritual guidance to both the patient and their family.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of modern healthcare, and it’s fair to assume that the way we approach caring for ill patients will be irrevocably changed by a virus that has now been in our midst for almost three years, with no signs of it subsiding just yet.

One aspect of healthcare that has certainly changed is the way in which palliative care has become intertwined with the way the virus is treated in hospitals. With many patients who contract COVID-19 unfortunately still passing away due to the virus, physicians and nursing staff have had to take a modus operandi that grapples with the challenges posed by the pandemic.

As many patients who have passed away from the virus have been unable to say their final goodbyes to loved ones in person, nursing staff have become the purveyors of palliative care, also using modern technology to allow patients and their families to speak via video call, for example.

Speaking about the renewed interest that COVID-19 has brought to palliative care in the US, Davis Baird, government affairs director for the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, has said that more and more individuals and policymakers are starting to see the needs that palliative care fulfils.

“There is a broad recognition that palliative care as a concept is really good at hitting what many call the triple aim in healthcare: it improves patient and family outcomes, it improves care experience at the point of care, and really critically on the policy side, results in cost savings,” says Baird.

Locally, the Association of Palliative Care Practitioners of South Africa (Palprac) has compiled guidelines for managing adult patients who receive home-based palliative care during the pandemic. As many of the patients that these guidelines are aimed at do not have access to healthcare services and providers, it has proved an invaluable tool to caretakers, whether they are professional palliative care practitioners, or the family of the person who is ill.

Although the circumstances that have led to this renewed interest in and esteem for palliative care are dire, it is heartening that the medical community as well as the general public are realising the importance of holistic healthcare that takes an interdisciplinary approach, which also includes offering support to the family and loved ones of the patient.

If you are in need of palliative care services in Johannesburg and Soweto, please feel free to contact HospiceWits – find out how here.