Palliative care is increasingly offered earlier in the cancer trajectory but rarely in Idiopathic Parkinson's Disease(IPD), Progressive Supranuclear Palsy(PSP) or Multiple System Atrophy(MSA). There is little longitudinal data of people with late stage disease to understand levels of need. We aimed to determine how symptoms and quality of life of these patients change over time; and what demographic and clinical factors predicted changes.
We recruited 82 patients into a longitudinal study, consenting patients with a diagnosis of IPD, MSA or PSP, stages 3–5 Hoehn and Yahr(H&Y). At baseline and then on up to 3 occasions over one year, we collected self-reported demographic, clinical, symptom, palliative and quality of life data, using Parkinson's specific and generic validated scales, including the Palliative care Outcome Scale (POS). We tested for predictors using multivariable analysis, adjusting for confounders.
Over two thirds of patients had severe disability, over one third being wheelchair-bound/bedridden. Symptoms were highly prevalent in all conditions - mean (SD) of 10.6(4.0) symptoms. More than 50% of the MSA and PSP patients died over the year. Over the year, half of the patients showed either an upward (worsening, 24/60) or fluctuant (8/60) trajectory for POS and symptoms. The strongest predictors of higher levels of symptoms at the end of follow-up were initial scores on POS (AOR 1.30; 95%CI:1.05–1.60) and being male (AOR 5.18; 95% CI 1.17 to 22.92), both were more predictive than initial H&Y scores.
The findings point to profound and complex mix of non-motor and motor symptoms in patients with late stage IPD, MSA and PSP. Symptoms are not resolved and half of the patients deteriorate. Palliative problems are predictive of future symptoms, suggesting that an early palliative assessment might help screen for those in need of earlier intervention.
Although chronic heart failure (CHF) has a high mortality rate and symptom burden, and clinical guidance stipulates palliative care intervention, there is a lack of evidence to guide clinical practice for patients approaching the end of life.
(1) To formulate guidance and recommendations for improving end‐of‐life care in CHF; (2) to generate data on patients' and carers' preferences regarding future treatment modalities, and to investigate communication between staff, patients and carers on end‐of‐life issues.
Semistructured qualitative interviews were conducted with 20 patients with CHF (New York Heart Association functional classification III–IV), 11 family carers, 6 palliative care clinicians and 6 cardiology clinicians.
A tertiary hospital in London, UK.
Patients and families reported a wide range of end‐of‐life care preferences. None had discussed these with their clinicians, and none was aware of choices or alternatives in future care modalities, such as adopting a palliative approach. Patients and carers live with fear and anxiety, and are uninformed about the implications of their diagnosis. Cardiac staff confirmed that they rarely raise such issues with patients. Disease‐ and specialism‐specific barriers to improving end‐of‐life care were identified.
The novel, integrated data presented here provide three recommendations for improving care in line with policy directives: sensitive provision of information and discussion of end‐of‐life issues with patients and families; mutual education of cardiology and palliative care staff; and mutually agreed palliative care referral criteria and care pathways for patients with CHF.
The development of the evidence-base informing end of life (EoL) care is hampered by the assumption that patients at the EoL are too vulnerable to participate in research. This study aims to systematically and critically review the evidence regarding the experiences and views of patients, caregivers, professionals and researchers about participation in EoL care research, and to identify best practices in research participation.
We searched seven electronic databases, and hand searched three journals and the bibliographies of relevant papers. Inclusion criteria were original research papers on involvement in EoL care research or its impact on participants. Critical interpretive synthesis was used to integrate the whole body of empirical evidence on this topic and generate theoretical categories from the evidence.
Of a total of 239 identified studies, 20 studies met the inclusion criteria, from: the US (11), the UK (6) and Australia (3). Most focused on patients with cancer (12) and were conducted in hospices (9) or hospitals (7). Studies enquired about issues related to: EoL care research in general (5), specific research methods (13), and trial research (2). The studies evaluating willingness to participate in EoL care research showed positive outcomes across the different parties involved in research. Factors influencing willingness were mainly physical and cognitive impairment. Participating in research was a positive experience for most patients and carers but a minority experienced distress. This was related to: characteristics of the participants; the type of research; or the way it was conducted. Participatory study designs were found particularly suitable for enabling the inclusion of a wide range of participants.
The evidence explored within this study demonstrates that the ethical concerns regarding patient participation in EoL care research are often unjustified. However, research studies in EoL care require careful design and execution that incorporates sensitivity to participants’ needs and concerns to enable their participation. An innovative conceptual model for research participation relevant for potentially vulnerable people was developed.
Research participation; End of life; Palliative care; Evidence; Critical interpretive synthesis
End-of-life care research across Africa is under-resourced and under-developed. A central issue in research in end-of-life care is the measurement of effects and outcomes of care on patients and families. Little is known about the experiences of health professionals' selection and implementation of outcome measures (OM) in clinical care, research, audit, or teaching in Africa.
An online survey was undertaken of those using outcome measures across the region, as part of the PRISMA project. A questionnaire addressing the use of OMs was developed for a similar survey in Europe and adapted for Africa. Participants were sampled through the contacts database of APCA. Invitation emails were sent out in January 2010 and reminders in February 2010.
168/301 invited contacts (56%) from 24 countries responded, with 78 respondents having previously used OM (65% in clinical practice, 12% in research and 23% for both). Main reasons for not using OM were a lack of guidance/training on using and analysing OM, with 49% saying that they would use the tools if this was provided. 40% of those using OM in clinical practice used POS, and 80% used them to assess, evaluate and monitor change. The POS was also the main tool used in research, with the principle criteria for use being validation in Africa, access to the tool and time needed to complete it. Challenges to the use of tools were shortage of time and resources, lack of guidance and training for the professionals, poor health status of patients and complexity of OM. Researchers also have problems analysing OM data. The APCA African POS was the most common version of the POS used, and was reported as a valuable tool for measuring outcomes. Respondents indicated the ideal outcome tool should be short, multi-dimensional and easy to use.
This was the first survey on professionals' views on OM in Africa. It showed that the APCA African POS was the most frequently OM used. Training and support are needed to help professionals utilise OM in palliative care, and OMs have an ongoing and important role in palliative care in Africa.
Palliative care; Online survey; Outcomes; Outcome measurement; Palliative care Outcome Scale (POS); APCA African POS; Research; Africa
Breathlessness is one of the core symptoms, particularly persistent and frequent, towards the end of life. There is no evidence of how the experience of breathlessness differs across conditions. This paper compares the experience of breathlessness in cancer, COPD, heart failure and MND, four conditions sharing heavy symptom burdens, poor prognoses, high breathlessness rates and palliative care needs.
For this qualitative study a purposive sample of 48 patients was included with a diagnosis of cancer (10), COPD (18), heart failure (10) or MND (10) and experiencing daily problems of breathlessness. Patients were recruited from the respective clinics at the hospital; specialist nurses' ward rounds and consultations, and "Breathe Easy" service users meetings in the community. Data were collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews and participant observation. Breathlessness was compared according to six components derived from explanatory models and symptom schemata, first within groups and then across groups. Frequency counts were conducted to check the qualitative findings.
All conditions shared the disabling effects of breathlessness. However there were differences between the four conditions, in the specific constraints of the illness and patients' experiences with the health care context and social environment. In cancer, breathlessness signalled the (possible) presence of cancer, and functioned as a reminder of patients' mortality despite the hopes they put in surgery, therapies and new drugs. For COPD patients, breathlessness was perceived as a self-inflicted symptom. Its insidious nature and response from services disaffirmed their experience and gradually led to greater disability in the course of illness. Patients with heart failure perceived breathlessness as a contributing factor to the negative effects of other symptoms. In MND breathlessness meant that the illness was a dangerous threat to patients' lives. COPD and heart failure had similar experiences.
Integrated palliative care is needed, that makes use of all appropriate therapeutic options, collaborative efforts from health, social care professionals, patients and caregivers, and therapies that acknowledge the dynamic interrelation of the body, mind and spirit.
An increasing number of older people reach the end of life in care homes. The aim of this study is to explore the perceived benefits of, and barriers to, implementation of the Gold Standards Framework for Care Homes (GSFCH), a quality improvement programme in palliative care.
Nine care homes involved in the GSFCH took part. We conducted semi-structured interviews with nine care home managers, eight nurses, nine care assistants, eleven residents and seven of their family members. We used the Framework approach to qualitative analysis. The analysis was deductive based on the key tasks of the GSFCH, the 7Cs: communication, coordination, control of symptoms, continuity, continued learning, carer support, and care of the dying. This enabled us to consider benefits of, and barriers to, individual components of the programme, as well as of the programme as a whole.
Perceived benefits of the GSFCH included: improved symptom control and team communication; finding helpful external support and expertise; increasing staff confidence; fostering residents' choice; and boosting the reputation of the home. Perceived barriers included: increased paperwork; lack of knowledge and understanding of end of life care; costs; and gaining the cooperation of GPs. Many of the tools and tasks in the GSFCH focus on improving communication. Participants described effective communication within the homes, and with external providers such as general practitioners and specialists in palliative care. However, many had experienced problems with general practitioners. Although staff described the benefits of supportive care registers, coding predicted stage of illness and advance care planning, which included improved communication, some felt the need for more experience of using these, and there were concerns about discussing death.
Most of the barriers described by participants are relevant to other interventions to improve end of life care in care homes. There is a need to investigate the impact of quality improvement programmes in care homes, such as the GSFCH, on a wider range of outcomes for residents and their families, and to monitor the sustainability of any resulting improvements. It is also important to explore the impact of the different components of these complex interventions.
Evidence of low end-of-life (EoL) care service use by minority ethnic groups in the UK has given rise to a body of research and a number of reviews of the literature. This article aims to review and evaluate literature reviews on minority ethnic groups and EoL care in the UK and assess their suitability as an evidence base for policy.
Systematic review. Searches were carried out in thirteen electronic databases, eight journals, reference lists, and grey literature. Reviews were included if they concerned minority ethnic groups and EoL care in the UK. Reviews were graded for quality and key themes identified.
Thirteen reviews (2001-2009) met inclusion criteria. Seven took a systematic approach, of which four scored highly for methodological quality (a mean score of six, median seven). The majority of systematic reviews were therefore of a reasonable methodological quality. Most reviews were restricted by ethnic group, aspect of EoL care, or were broader reviews which reported relevant findings. Six key themes were identified.
A number of reviews were systematic and scored highly for methodological quality. These reviews provide a good reflection of the primary evidence and could be used to inform policy. The complexity and inter-relatedness of factors leading to low service use was recognised and reflected in reviews' recommendations for service improvement. Recommendations made in the UK End-of-Life Care Strategy were limited in comparison, and the Strategy's evidence base concerning minority ethnic groups was found to be narrow. Future policy should be embedded strongly in the evidence base to reflect the current literature and minimise bias.
There is a dearth of data regarding the optimal method of detecting and treating depression in palliative care. This study applied the Delphi method to evaluate expert opinion on choice of screening tool, choice of antidepressant and choice of psychological therapy. The aim was to inform the development of best practice recommendations for the European Palliative Care Research Collaborative clinical practice guideline on managing depression in palliative care.
18 members of an international, multi-professional expert group completed a structured questionnaire in two rounds, rating their agreement with proposed items on a scale from 0-10 and annotating with additional comments. The median and range were calculated to give a statistical average of the experts' ratings.
There was contention regarding the benefits of screening, with 'routine informal asking' (median 8.5 (0-10)) rated more highly than formal screening tools such as the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (median 7.0 (1-10). Mirtazapine (median 9 (7-10) and citalopram (median 9 (5-10) were the considered the best choice of antidepressant and cognitive behavioural therapy (median 9.0 (3-10) the best choice of psychological therapy.
The range of expert ratings was broad, indicating discordance in the views of experts. Direct comparative data from randomised controlled trials are needed to strengthen the evidence-base and achieve clarity on how best to detect and treat depression in this setting.
Breathlessness in advanced disease causes significant distress to patients and carers and presents management challenges to health care professionals. The Breathlessness Intervention Service (BIS) seeks to improve the care of breathless patients with advanced disease (regardless of cause) through the use of evidence-based practice and working with other healthcare providers. BIS delivers a complex intervention (of non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatments) via a multi-professional team. BIS is being continuously developed and its impact evaluated using the MRC's framework for complex interventions (PreClinical, Phase I and Phase II completed). This paper presents the protocol for Phase III.
Phase III comprises a pragmatic, fast-track, single-blind randomised controlled trial of BIS versus standard care. Due to differing disease trajectories, the service uses two broad service models: one for patients with malignant disease (intervention delivered over two weeks) and one for patients with non-malignant disease (intervention delivered over four weeks). The Phase III trial therefore consists of two sub-protocols: one for patients with malignant conditions (four week protocol) and one for patients with non-malignant conditions (eight week protocol). Mixed method interviews are conducted with patients and their lay carers at three to five measurement points depending on randomisation and sub-protocol. Qualitative interviews are conducted with referring and non-referring health care professionals (malignant disease protocol only). The primary outcome measure is 'patient distress due to breathlessness' measured on a numerical rating scale (0-10). The trial includes economic evaluation. Analysis will be on an intention to treat basis.
This is the first evaluation of a breathlessness intervention for advanced disease to have followed the MRC framework and one of the first palliative care trials to use fast track methodology and single-blinding. The results will provide evidence of the clinical and cost-effectiveness of the service, informing its longer term development and implementation of the model in other centres nationally and internationally. It adds to methodological developments in palliative care research where complex interventions are common but evidence sparse.
Quality of life (QOL) is a core outcome of palliative care, yet in African settings there is a lack of evidence on patients' levels of QOL. We aimed to describe QOL among patients with incurable, progressive disease receiving palliative care in South Africa and Uganda, to compare QOL in cancer and HIV, to determine how domains of QOL correlate with overall QOL, and compare levels of QOL in this population with those in other studies using the same tool.
A cross-sectional survey was conducted using the Missoula Vitas Quality of Life Index (MVQOLI), a 26-item QOL questionnaire with five subscales (Function, Symptom, Interpersonal, Well being, Transcendent) covering physical, social, psychological and spiritual domains and one global QOL item. One item in each subscale assesses the subjective importance of the domain on a score from 1 (least important) to 5 (most important), used to weight the contribution of the subscale towards the Total QOL score. The tool was translated into 6 languages and administered to consecutively recruited patients at four facilities in South Africa and one in Uganda.
285 patients were recruited, with a mean age of 40.1; 197 (69.1%) were female. Patients' primary diagnoses were HIV (80.7%), cancer (17.9%) and other conditions (1.4%). The mean global QOL score was 2.81 (possible range 0 (worst) to 5 (best)); mean Total score 17.32 (possible range 0 to 30). Patients scored most poorly on Function (mean 0.21), followed by Well being (2.59), Symptoms (5.38), Transcendent (5.50), Interpersonal (9.53) (possible range for subscale scores -30 to 30). Most important to patients were: close relationships (mean 4.13), feeling at peace (4.12), sense of meaning in life (4.10), being active (3.84), physical comfort (2.58). Cancer patients were predominantly recruited at three of the sites; hence comparison with HIV-infected patients was restricted to these sites. HIV+ patients (n = 115) scored significantly worse than cancer patients (n = 50) on Well being (Z = -2.778, p = 0.005), Transcendence (Z = -2.693, p = 0.007) and Total QOL (Z = -2.564, p = 0.01). Global QOL score was most weakly correlated with Total QOL (r = 0.37) and the Transcendent subscale was most highly correlated (r = 0.77) (both p < 0.001). Patients receiving palliative care in South Africa and Uganda exhibited significantly poorer QOL compared to similar populations in the USA.
Feeling at peace and having a sense of meaning in life were more important to patients than being active or physical comfort, and spiritual wellbeing correlated most highly with overall QOL. It is therefore vital to identify and meet the psychological and spiritual care needs of patients, as well as to assess and treat pain and other symptoms. Our finding that patients scored most poorly on the Function domain warrants further research.
To date, there is no coordinated strategy for end-of-life (EOL) cancer care research in Europe. The PRISMA (Reflecting the Positive Diversities of European Priorities for Research and Measurement in End-of-life Care) project is aiming to develop a programme integrating research and measurement in EOL care. This survey aimed to map and describe present EOL cancer care research in Europe and to identify priorities and barriers.
Material and methods
A questionnaire of 62 questions was developed and 201 researchers in 41 European countries were invited to complete it online in May 2009. An open invitation to participate was posted on the internet.
Invited contacts in 36 countries sent 127 replies; eight additional responses came through websites. A total of 127 responses were eligible for analysis. Respondents were 69 male and 58 female, mean age 49 (28–74) years; 85% of the scientific team leaders were physicians. Seventy-one of 127 research groups were located in a teaching hospital or cancer centre. Forty-five percent of the groups had only one to five members and 28% six to ten members. Sixty-three of 92 groups reported specific funding for EOL care research. Seventy-five percent of the groups had published papers in journals with impact factor ≤5 in the last 3 years; 8% had published in journals with impact factor >10. Forty-four out of 90 groups reported at least one completed Ph.D. in the last 3 years. The most frequently reported active research areas were pain, assessment and measurement tools, and last days of life and quality of death. Very similar areas—last days of life and quality of death, pain, fatigue and cachexia, and assessment and measurement tools—were ranked as the most important research priorities. The most important research barriers were lack of funding, lack of time, and insufficient knowledge/expertise.
Most research groups in EOL care are small. The few large groups (14%) had almost half of the reported publications, and more than half of the current Ph.D. students. There is a lack of a common strategy and coordination in EOL cancer care research and a great need for international collaboration.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00520-010-1048-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Neoplasms; Palliative care; Terminal care; Research; Europe; Survey
Breathlessness is common and distressing in advanced disease. This phase II study aimed to determine the use and acceptance of a hand-held fan (HHF) to relieve breathlessness, to test the effectiveness of the HHF and to evaluate the recruitment into the study.
RCT embedded within a longitudinal study testing a HHF over time compared to a wristband. Patients were included in the longitudinal study when suffering from breathlessness due to advanced cancer or COPD III/IV and could opt in the RCT. Primary outcome was use of the HHF and the wristband after two months. Secondary outcomes were recruitment into the trial and change of breathlessness severity after two months, measured on the modified Borg scale. Baseline data were collected in a personal interview and follow-up data by monthly postal questionnaires.
109 patients were recruited in the longitudinal study of which 70 patients (64%) participated in the RCT. Non-participants had statistically significant less breathlessness (Borg mean 2.6 (SD 1.48) versus 3.7 (SD 1.83); p = 0.003) and a better functional status (Karnofsky status mean 61.9 (SD 11.2) versus 66.7 (SD 11.0); p = 0.03). Attrition due to drop out or death was high in both groups. After two months, about half of the patients used the HHF but only 20% the wristband without a statistical difference (Fisher's exact test p = 0.2). 9/16 patients judged the HHF as helpful after two months and 4/5 patients the wristband. There was no difference in mean breathlessness change scores between the HHF (Borg change score: mean 0.6 (SD 2.10)) and the wristband (mean 0.8 (SD 2.67)) after two months (p = 0.90).
Symptom burden and low functional status did not restrain patients from participation in the study. Finding a control for a visible intervention is challenging and needs careful consideration to what is acceptable to patients. The preliminary evidence of effectiveness of the HHF could not be proved. Patients often stopped using the HHF but a small group seemed to benefit which was not necessarily related to a relief in breathlessness. Therefore, more work is necessary on selecting and identifying those who might benefit from the HHF.
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01123902
Emerging trends and new policies suggest that more cancer patients might die at home in the future. However, not all have equal chances of achieving this. Furthermore, there is lack of evidence to support that those who die at home experience better care and a better death than those who die as inpatients. The QUALYCARE study aims to examine variations in the quality and costs of end-of-life care, preferences and palliative outcomes associated with dying at home or in an institution for cancer patients.
Mortality followback survey (with a nested case-control study of home vs. hospital deaths) conducted with bereaved relatives of cancer patients in four Primary Care Trusts in London. Potential participants are identified from death registrations and approached by the Office for National Statistics in complete confidence. Data are collected via a postal questionnaire to identify the informal and formal care received in the three months before death and the associated costs, relatives' satisfaction with care, and palliative outcomes for the patients and their relatives. A well-established questionnaire to measure relatives' views on the care integrates four brief and robust tools - the Client Service Receipt Inventory, the Palliative Outcome Scale, the EQ-5 D and the Texas Revised Inventory of Grief. Further questions assess patients and relatives' preferences for place of death. The survey aims to include 500 bereaved relatives (140 who experienced a home death, 205 a hospital death, 115 a hospice death and 40 a nursing home death). Bivariate and multivariate analyses will explore differences in place of death and place of end-of-life care, in preferences for place of death, patients' palliative outcomes and relatives' bereavement outcomes, in relation to place of death. Factors influencing death at home and the costs of end-of-life care by place of death will be identified.
Collecting data on end-of-life care retrospectively from bereaved relatives has ethical, practical and scientific challenges. QUALYCARE has been carefully designed to address these challenges in a robust and ethically sound population-based survey. By discovering variations in the underlying individual reality of place of death for people dying from cancer and their families, this study will advance our understanding of end-of-life care and, we hope, improve care for cancer patients and their families in the future.
National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network Portfolio. UKCRN7041.
It is possible to teach the ABCD of preserving patients' dignity
To examine fears about dying in an ethnically diverse population sample, and a more homogeneous population sample, aged 65 and over.
Personal interviews with people aged 65+ living at home responding to two Office for National Statistics Omnibus Surveys in Britain, and two Ethnibus Surveys of ethnically diverse populations in Britain.
Ethnically diverse respondents were more likely than British population respondents to express fears about dying on all measures used. Respondents in both samples with better, compared with worse, quality of life had significantly reduced odds of having extreme fears of dying (ethnically diverse sample, OR 0.924 (95% CI 0.898 to 0.951); British population sample, OR 0.981 (95% CI 0.966 to 0.996); both p<0.001). In the latter sample only, older age was protective (OR 0.957; 95% CI 0.930 to 0.985; p<0.001), whereas in the Ethnibus sample, having a longstanding illness (OR 2.024; 95% CI 1.158 to 3.535; p<0.05) and having more relatives to help them (OR 1.134; 95% CI 1.010 to 1.274; p<0.05) increased fears about dying.
Enabling older people to express fears about dying is likely to be important when planning supportive end-of-life care. Practitioners should not assume that fears about dying are the same in different social groups, or that extensive family support is protective against such anxiety. Older people from ethnic minorities had more anxieties about dying than others, and were more likely to express fears the more extensive their family support. These findings have implications for commissioners and practitioners of primary and secondary care.
Attitudes; dying; ethnicity; old age; quality of life; end of life; palliative care; pain management; quality in healthcare
Little is known about combining work with caring for a person with advanced illness. This is important given the increasing number of women in the workforce and current policy seeking to increase care in the community. The aim of this paper was to explore the meaning of work for women caring for a husband with an advanced illness and the consequences of combining these two roles.
A purposive sample of 15 carers was recruited from a hospital and from the community, via the patients they cared for. Their illnesses included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, motor neurone disease, and heart failure. Data were collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews that were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. A Grounded Theory approach was used and case studies were developed. NVivo software facilitated the management and analysis of the data.
Caring presented challenges to carers' work life. It diminished productivity or the quality of work, and led to missed opportunities for promotion. Work had an effect on the quality of care and the relationship with the patient, which eventually led to work being given up for caring. Three carers resisted the pressures to give up work and used it as a coping strategy.
A positive choice to remain in employment does not necessarily signal reluctance to care. Caring arrangements need to be understood from the common and separate interests of carers and the people they support.
Although older people are increasingly cared for in nursing homes towards the end of life, there is a dearth of research exploring the views of residents. There are however, a number of challenges and methodological issues involved in doing this. The aim of this paper is to discuss some of these, along with residents' views on taking part in a study of the perceptions of dignity of older people in care homes and make recommendations for future research in these settings.
Qualitative interviews were used to obtain the views on maintaining dignity of 18 people aged 75 years and over, living in two private nursing homes in South East London. Detailed field notes on experiences of recruiting and interviewing participants were kept.
Challenges included taking informed consent (completing reply slips and having a 'reasonable' understanding of their participation); finding opportunities to conduct interviews; involvement of care home staff and residents' families and trying to maintain privacy during the interviews. Most residents were positive about their participation in the study, however, five had concerns either before or during their interviews. Although 15 residents seemed to feel free to air their views, three seemed reluctant to express their opinions on their care in the home.
Although we experienced many challenges to conducting this study, they were not insurmountable, and once overcome, allowed this often unheard vulnerable group to express their views, with potential long-term benefits for future delivery of care.
The Breathlessness Intervention Service is a novel service for patients with intractable breathlessness regardless of aetiology. It is being evaluated using the Medical Research Council's framework for the evaluation of complex interventions. This paper describes the feasibility results of Phase II: a single-blinded fast-track pragmatic randomised controlled trial.
A single-blinded fast-track pragmatic randomised controlled trial was conducted for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease referred to the service. Patients were randomised to either receive the intervention immediately for an eight-week period, or receive the intervention after an eight-week period on a waiting list during which time they received standard care. Outcomes examined included: response rates to the trial; response rates to the individual questionnaires and items; comments relating to the trial functioning made during interviews with patients, carers, referrers and service providers; and, researcher fieldwork notes.
16 of the 20 eligible patients agreed to participate in a recruitment visit (16/20); 14 respondents went on to complete a recruitment visit/baseline interview. The majority of those who completed a recruitment visit/baseline interview completed the RCT protocol (13/14); 12 of their carers were recruited and completed the protocol. An unblinding rate of 6/25 respondents (patients and carers) was identified. Missing data were minimal and only one patient was lost to follow up. The fast-track trial methodology proved feasible and acceptable. Two of the baseline/outcome measures proved unsuitable: the WHO performance scale and the Schedule for the Evaluation of Individual Quality of Life-Direct Weighting (SEIQoL-DW).
This study adds to the evidence that fast-track randomised controlled trials are feasible and acceptable in evaluations of palliative care interventions for patients with non-malignant conditions. Reasonable response rates and low attrition rates were achieved. Further, with adequate preparation of the research and randomisation teams, clinicians, and responders, and effective liaison with the clinicians, single-blinding proved possible. Methods were identified to reduce unblinding through careful attention to the type of data collected at unblinded measurement points; the content of interviews should be carefully considered when designing blinded-trial protocols.
Clinical Trials.gov NCT00711438
Loss of dignity for people with advanced cancer is associated with high levels of psychological and spiritual distress and the loss of the will to live. Dignity Therapy is a brief psychotherapy, which has been developed to help promote dignity and reduce distress. It comprises a recorded interview, which is transcribed, edited then returned to the patient, who can bequeath it to people of their choosing. Piloting in Canada, Australia and the USA, has suggested that Dignity Therapy is beneficial to people with advanced cancer and their families. The aims of this study are to assess the feasibility, acceptability and potential effectiveness of Dignity Therapy to reduce psychological and spiritual distress in people with advanced cancer who have been referred to hospital-based palliative care teams in the UK, and to pilot the methods for a Phase III RCT.
A randomised controlled open-label trial. Forty patients with advanced cancer are randomly allocated to one of two groups: (i) Intervention (Dignity Therapy offered in addition to any standard care), and (ii) Control group (standard care). Recipients of the 'generativity' documents are asked their views on taking part in the study and the therapy. Both quantitative and qualitative outcomes are assessed in face-to-face interviews at baseline and at approximately one and four weeks after the intervention (equivalent in the control group). The primary outcome is patients' sense of dignity (potential effectiveness) assessed by the Patient Dignity Inventory. Secondary outcomes for patients include distress, hopefulness and quality of life. In view of the relatively small sample size, quantitative analyses are mainly descriptive. The qualitative analysis uses the Framework method.
Dignity Therapy is brief, can be delivered at the bedside and may help both patients and their families. This detailed exploratory research shows if it is feasible to offer Dignity Therapy to patients with advanced cancer, many of whom are likely to be in the terminal stage of their illness, whether it is acceptable to them and their families, if it is likely to be effective, and determine whether a Phase III RCT is desirable.
Current Controlled Clinical Trials: ISRCTN29868352
Although most older people living in nursing homes die there, there is a dearth of robust evaluations of interventions to improve their end-of-life care. Residents usually have multiple health problems making them heavily reliant on staff for their care, which can erode their sense of dignity. Dignity Therapy has been developed to help promote dignity and reduce distress. It comprises a recorded interview, which is transcribed, edited then returned to the patient, who can bequeath it to people of their choosing. Piloting has suggested that Dignity Therapy is beneficial to people dying of cancer and their families. The aims of this study are to assess the feasibility, acceptability and potential effectiveness of Dignity Therapy to reduce psychological and spiritual distress in older people reaching the end of life in care homes, and to pilot the methods for a Phase III RCT.
A randomised controlled open-label trial. Sixty-four residents of care homes for older people are randomly allocated to one of two groups: (i) Intervention (Dignity Therapy offered in addition to any standard care), and (ii) Control group (standard care). Recipients of the "generativity" documents are asked their views on taking part in the study and the therapy. Both quantitative and qualitative outcomes are assessed in face-to-face interviews at baseline and at approximately one and eight weeks after the intervention (equivalent in the control group). The primary outcome is residents' sense of dignity (potential effectiveness) assessed by the Patient Dignity Inventory. Secondary outcomes for residents include depression, hopefulness and quality of life. In view of the relatively small sample size, quantitative analysis is mainly descriptive. The qualitative analysis uses the Framework method.
Dignity Therapy is brief, can be done at the bedside and could help both patients and their families. This detailed exploratory research shows if it is feasible to offer Dignity Therapy to residents of care homes, whether it is acceptable to them, their families and care home staff, if it is likely to be effective, and determine whether a Phase III RCT is desirable.
Current Controlled Clinical Trials: ISRCTN37589515
The role of the General Practitioner (GP) is central to community palliative care. Good liaison between the different professionals involved in a patient's care is extremely important in palliative care patients. In cases where GPs have previously been dissatisfied with palliative services, this may be seen as a barrier to referral when caring for other patients. The aim of this survey is to investigate the use and previous experiences of GPs of two palliative care services, with particular emphasis on barriers to referral and to explore issues surrounding the GP's role in caring for palliative patients.
Design: Descriptive postal survey of use and experience of palliative care services with particular emphasis on barriers to referral. Setting: One Primary Care Trust (PCT), south London, England, population 298,500. Subjects: 180 GPs in the PCT, which is served by two hospice services (A&B).
An overall questionnaire response rate of 77% (138) was obtained, with 69% (124) used in analysis. Over 90% of GPs were satisfied with the palliative care services over the preceding two years. Two areas of possible improvement emerged; communication and prescribing practices. GPs identified some patients that they had not referred, most commonly when patients or carers were reluctant to accept help, or when other support was deemed sufficient. Over half of the GPs felt there were areas where improvement could be made; with clarification of the rules and responsibilities of the multi disciplinary team being the most common. The majority of GPs were working, and want to work with, the specialist services as part of an extended team. However, a greater number of GPs want to hand over care to the specialist services than are currently doing so.
A large number of GPs were happy with the service provision of the palliative care services in this area. They suggested that 3 out of 4 terminally ill patients needed specialist input. Views of services were largely positive, and reasons for non referral were unrelated to previous experience of the specialist services.
Clinicians and researchers often have to rely on information from caregivers to assess patients with advanced cancer. This study aims to assess the validity (using patients' assessment as the gold standard) of caregiver reports of patient concerns and the roles of caregiver burden and positivity.
A total of 64 advanced cancer patient and informal caregiver dyads were recruited from regional palliative care services and interviewed. Patients' outcomes were assessed with both the patient and the caregiver version of the Palliative Outcome Scale (POS); caregiver burden and positivity were collected with the Zarit Burden interview (ZBI) and three questions on achievements and relationships. The agreement between patient- and caregiver-rated POS was measured with weighted kappa statistics. The roles of caregiver burden and positivity in POS agreement were studied with logistic regression controlling for potential confounders; adjusted odds ratios were estimated from the models.
Agreement was substantial for pain, moderate for four items, fair for three items and slight for two items. Compared with patients self-ratings, caregivers described more problems with information given and sharing feelings and were less likely to assess the patient felt their life was worthwhile or felt good about themselves. Disagreement for three POS item ratings was significantly associated with higher caregiver burden: "feeling anxious"(OR: 4.5; 95%CI: 1.3 to 15.6), "life worthwhile"(OR: 12.4; 95%CI: 2.9 to 54.3) and "felt good" (OR: 7.7; 95%CI: 2.0 to 29.6). Caregivers with higher positivity scores were more likely to agree patients' rating of "felt good"(OR: 0.3; 95%CI: 0.1–0.9) but at increased risk of disagreeing about patient's "practical problems"(OR: 4.2; 95%CI: 1.1 to 16.6).
Caregiver burden and positivity affect their assessments, especially of psychological patient domains and whether patients assess their life as worthwhile. Awareness of this might help clinicians and researchers better interpret caregiver assessments.
Palliative care has been proposed for progressive non-cancer conditions but there have been few evaluations of service developments. We analysed recruitment, compliance and follow-up data of a fast track (or wait list control) randomised controlled trial of a new palliative care service – a design not previously used to assess palliative care.
An innovative palliative care service (comprising a consultant in palliative medicine, a clinical nurse specialist, an administrator and a psychosocial worker) was delivered to people severely affected by multiple sclerosis (MS), and their carers, in southeast London. Our design followed the MRC Framework for the Evaluation of Complex Interventions. In phase II we conducted randomised controlled trial, of immediate referral to the service (fast-track) versus a 12-week wait (standard best practice). Main outcome measures were: compliance (the extent the trial protocol was adhered to), recruitment (target 50 patients), attrition and missing data rates; trial outcomes were Palliative Care Outcome Scale and MS Impact Scale.
69 patients were referred, 52 entered the trial (26 randomised to each arm), 5 refused consent and 12 were excluded from the trial for other reasons, usually illness or urgent needs, achieving our target numbers. 25/26 fast track and 21/26 standard best practice patients completed the trial, resulting in 217/225 (96%) of possible interviews completed, 87% of which took place in the patient's home. Main reasons for failure to interview and/or attrition were death or illness. There were three deaths in the standard best practice group and one in the fast-track group during the trial. At baseline there were no differences between groups. Missing data for individual questionnaire items were small (median 0, mean 1–5 items out of 56+ items per interview), not associated with any patient or carer characteristics or with individual questionnaires, but were associated with interviewer.
This is the first time a fast track (or wait list) randomised trial has been reported in palliative care. We found it achieved good recruitment and is a feasible method to evaluate palliative care services when patients are expected to live longer than 3–6 months. Home interviews are needed for a trial of this kind; interviewers need careful recruitment, training and supervision; and there should be careful separation from the clinical service of the control patients to prevent accidental contamination.
Clinical Trials.Gov NCT00364963
Few empirical data show the pattern of functional decline at the end of life for cancer patients, especially among older patients.
In a mortality follow-back survey (the Italian Survey of the Dying of Cancer – ISDOC) a random sample of 1,271 lay caregivers were interviewed, at a mean of 234 days after bereavement. The main outcome was number of days before death when the patient experienced a permanent functional decline.
1,249 (98%) caregivers answered the question about patient's function. The probability to be free from a functional disability was high (94%) 52 weeks before death, but was lower for older age groups (15% for those aged 85 or more) and women (8%). It remained stable until 18 weeks before death, then fell to 63% at 12 weeks and 49% at 6 weeks before death (among those aged 85 or more the figures were 50% and 41%). The pattern was consistent across sub-groups, except for patients affected by Central Nervous System tumors who experienced a longer, slower functional decline.
This study provides empirical support for the declining trajectory in cancer, and suggests that the decline commences at around 12 weeks in all age groups, even among patients over 85 years.