COVID-19 is changing the way we understand our health systems, our society and ourselves. Palliative care is now a critical part of a response to the pandemic nationally with PCA establishing the Australian COVID-19 Palliative Care Working Group (ACPCWG). The ACPCWG statement “Why Palliative Care Matters” (382kb pdf) reminds us that palliative care’s role is not just direct care provision but sharing the expertise of palliative care clinicians, services, academics and researchers more broadly across the health system. This knowledge can inform how complex and distressing symptoms are managed, encourage meaningful discussions about choices and the future, assist in preventing and reducing clinical problems in the community and in residential aged care, help to avoid unnecessary emergency department presentations, and encourage innovative solutions to continuing personal connection across sickness and death.
One of the challenges we face is addressing how COVID-19 will shape how we organise care and how we practice given that it is easily transmissible, has disproportionate impacts on several “at risk” groups, and exposes the health workforce to infection while they are providing care. Ensuring that there is ready access to information, evidence and resources to support palliative care and to support care at the end of life within a COVID19 context is critical. This is particularly important when we are simultaneously planning how to manage future demand while continuing to provide immediate care.
There are many research oriented and practice based sources of COVID-19 information as well as daily media stories. They cover all the aspects of COVID-19 from virology and vaccines to epidemiology and transmission mechanisms to clinical progression and therapies. Managing this flood of information creates its own challenges in terms of assessing its quality, its relevance to palliative care, and its applicability to the Australian context. As part of the ACPCWG response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CareSearch has created a COVID-19 and Palliative Care hub.
This resource provides relevant information to the wide range of health professionals, aged care workers, and family and carers who will be involved in supporting people with palliative care needs during the pandemic as well as those caring for people who are dying from a COVID-19 infection. Health professionals providing care will be taking up new challenges such as infection control processes, decision-making protocols, and a rapidly expanded telehealth platform. The resource also recognises that care will be provided in different settings – in the home, in residential aged care, in subacute settings and in acute hospital wards. Separate sections provide for the needs of specialist palliative care, aged care, paediatrics, hospitals, GPs and general practice, nurses, allied health, and researchers.
The CareSearch COVID-19 and Palliative Care hub harvests literature, research and guidance from around the world as well as drawing on the resources and work of many other projects within the National Palliative Care Program. The CareSearch Project Team will continue to work with the ACPCWG to update this resource with new guidance and tools and to address new issues that the working group identifies. If there are needs that are not covered, we welcome input and feedback. If there are resources that can be shared, we invite you to send them for us to review for inclusion.
Professor Jennifer Tieman, CareSearch Director, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University