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MDX research highlights lack of bedside spiritual support for sick COVID-19 patients during pandemic

15/10/2020
Many critically ill patients were reportedly denied the 'final act of compassion' during the peak of outbreak

Thousands of patients who were extremely sick in hospitals in England with COVID-19 during the peak of the pandemic did not receive bedside spiritual support from chaplains and relatives, according to research by Middlesex University.

Critically ill patients were largely “deprived of spiritual care” and the “final act of compassion” at their bedside between March and May, the study found.

Academics from the university’s Research Centre for Transcultural Studies in Health said hospital chaplains and relatives were largely prevented from being at the bedside because of “strict isolating conditions on wards” and issues surrounding the availability of PPE, and had to communicate virtually with the sick patients via mobile phones and iPads.

"As spirituality is an essential element of what makes us human and its provision to dying people is considered as the ultimate act of compassion, we believe that what we found is unsatisfactory and needs to be addressed at the highest level." Dr Irena Papadopoulos, a Professor of Transcultural Health

With the threat of further lockdowns and increasing Covid-19 cases nationally, Middlesex University researchers say “lessons need to be learned about bedside spiritual support as soon as possible ”.

The team searched for references to bedside spiritual support via Google, social media and the websites of media outlets, health care and spirituality institutions.

Only 15% of the hospitals in England included in the study reported to allow bedside spiritual support.

Dr Irena Papadopoulos, a Professor of Transcultural Health and Nursing and Head of the Research Centre for Transcultural Studies in Health, said: “We have concluded that very little spiritual support was given to the very ill and dying patients at the bedside.

“This must have been a terrifying time for all COVID-19 hospitalised patients, particularly for young people, who needed comfort and support.

“Only a handful of hospitals allowed either relatives or primarily chaplains into wards to pray or read holy scriptures with them, or pass on messages from loved ones.

“Much spiritual support was given by nurses who were extremely busy trying to keep everybody alive and safe.

“In general, the religious and non-religious spiritual leaders provided virtual services.

“As spirituality is an essential element of what makes us human and its provision to dying people is considered as the ultimate act of compassion, we believe that what we found is unsatisfactory and needs to be addressed at the highest level.

“Body, mind and spirit are the three components of being a human and they are equally important.”

The study has made the following the recommendations:

  • Radically improve the inadequate bedside spiritual support
  • Better preparation in terms of PPE provision
  • Develop national protocols for major health emergencies such as COVID
  • Provide better training in managing and co-ordinating major health emergencies such as COVID
  • Find more effective ways to involve the chaplains and other spiritual leaders in order to be able to be present at the bedside for 24 hours per day
  • Create a National Spiritual Support Strategy for Major Health Emergencies and Disasters

On the creation of a national strategy, the report said: “In the current unprecedented times, we need to harness the spiritual resources we have and organise them in order to function as an essential part of all healthcare teams.

“A national strategy will provide a clear direction of what needs to be done in order to provide spiritual support to all who need it in such major events.

“A comprehensive strategy, complemented by relevant training, will make it possible to comfort and care for patients and their loved ones.

“It will also help to remove the inequalities which have been identified in this report, such as the physical access of hospitalised patients by relatives and spiritual support providers being available in some hospitals and not in others.”

The MDX researchers were Professor Rena Papadopoulos, Dr Runa Lazzarino, Steve Wright, Poppy Ellis Logan and Dr Christina Koulouglioti.

The full report - Spiritual support for hospitalised COVID-19 patients during March to May 2020 .

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