An inconsistent approach to commissioning bereavement support is creating a postcode lottery and risks people being left without the help they need, according to latest analysis by charity Independent Age.
In a Freedom of Information request[i] to Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and local authorities (LAs) focused on emotional and psychological support, as well as practical information and advice, the charity found that there is no clear responsibility for providing or commissioning this type of bereavement support, with CCGs and LAs adopting different approaches in different areas.
Despite COVID-19 increasing both the number of bereaved people and the number experiencing traumatic bereavement, very few CCGs/LAs have invested extra money into bereavement because of COVID-19.
Key findings include:
- Just 22% of CCGs and 17% LAs have provided additional funding due to COVID-19 for bereavement support.
- In at least 56 local authority areas, no additional Covid-19 bereavement funding has been put in place by either the local authority or local CCGs.
- 32% of CCGs and 56% LAs had not commissioned bereavement services at all within the last three years.
- There are at least 12 local authority areas where no bereavement support is commissioned by either the local authority or CCG.
Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:
“Undoubtedly the shocking death toll from COVID-19 has meant that more people are being left to struggle through a bereavement alone, but we know this lack of support isn’t a new problem.
“For years, bereavement support has been disparate, unconnected and highly localised. People in later life frequently tell us they are unaware of what support is available or how to access it.”
“It has never been more urgent for the Government to recognise the vital role bereavement support plays and make it a funding priority. The Department of Health and Social Care must implement a bereavement strategy with improved oversight to ensure everyone is given the support they need at what can be the worst time of their life, regardless of where they live.”
In the first lockdown alone, Independent Age estimates that up to 98,000 people aged over 65 were bereaved of a partner[ii].
Typically, 7% of bereaved people go on to develop ‘complicated grief’, a period of prolonged acute grief[iii]. This can happen when the ‘normal’ grieving process is interrupted, which has been the case for many people during the pandemic. Due to the restrictions in place during the pandemic, Independent Age believe the number of people experiencing complex grief will be much higher.
Previous research from the charity found that older people are more likely to have worse physical and mental health as a result of bereavement than younger people. An older person whose partner has died is more likely to die in the three months following their partner’s death than someone who hasn’t been bereaved.
Other devastating impacts for older people following a bereavement include loneliness and isolation, a deterioration in their physical health and financial implications.
As well as a lack of support being commissioned to help with bereavement, the FOI also revealed gaps in CCGs and LAs knowledge and awareness of the availability and uptake of bereavement support:
- 60% of CCGs (64) and 77% of LAs (93) that responded were unable to give any information regarding the number of people who had benefited from bereavement services in their local area.
- 51% of CCGs were unable to name any other organisations that commissioned bereavement services in their local area. Of these CCGs, 21 did not commission any services themselves.
- 48% of LAs were unable to name any other organisations that commissioned bereavement services. Of these LAs, 49 did not commission any services themselves.
Alison Penny, Coordinator at the National Bereavement Alliance, said:
“These important findings from Independent Age shine a light on how the commissioning of bereavement services varies hugely from area to area.
“The findings are a crucial foundation to getting more consistent provision in place across the country, so that wherever we live and however we’ve been bereaved, help is out there when we need more grief support than our friends and family can provide.”
Steven Wibberley, Chief Executive at Cruse Bereavement Care, said:
“The briefing shows unacceptable variation in commissioning bereavement support, in turn this leads to a postcode lottery for grieving people looking for help. Now more than ever, bereaved people need access to high quality bereavement support that is tailored to their needs, wherever they live.
“At Cruse we struggle with different CCGs / LAs commissioning in different ways, with different funding levels, different specifications and different outcomes. We need clarity, guidance and leadership from NHS England to ensure all bereaved people receive the support they so desperately need.”
Ann, who is going through a bereavement after losing her husband, said:
“It wasn’t until months later that I started grieving and there hasn’t been anybody there to talk to.
“With this last lockdown, I’m finding it very difficult to cope, I just need someone outside of the family to talk to and reassure me that I can get through this, because at the moment I don’t think I can.”
In addition to improved funding and a national strategy, the charity is also recommending that CCGs take the lead in commissioning services with support from LAs, but says this must be backed up by clear guidance for CCGs from NHS England on how to commission bereavement support services.
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Notes to editor
For media enquiries please contact
Amy Dodge, Media and PR Manager at Independent Age on 020 7605 6508, email@example.com
Out of Hours: 07545 209589
[i] Our freedom of information request was sent out on the 9th September 2020. Our last response prior to authoring the report was received on 17th November 2020. All responses received after this date were not included in our analysis.
ii Independent Age estimate based on combining Office for National Statistics weekly death figures with data from the Family Resources survey. Note that dates do not match the lockdown period exactly because of when data sets are published. Figures have been calculated using the closest available data to the beginning and end of the first national lockdown in 2020.
[iii]M. Katherine Shear, ‘Grief and mourning gone awry: pathway and course of complicated grief’, Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 2012 Jun; 14(2)
About Independent Age
Independent Age is a growing charity helping older people across the UK to live more independent, fulfilling lives.
Founded over 150 years ago, we are an established voice for older people and their families and carers, offering free advice and information and providing services, such as befriending, to promote wellbeing and reduce loneliness.
In addition to this, we use the knowledge and understanding gained from our frontline services to campaign on issues that affect older people, like poverty, loneliness and carers’ rights.
For more information, visit our website www.independentage.org
Speak to one of our advisers for free and confidential advice and information. Lines are open between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday and from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Freephone 0800 319 6789 or email firstname.lastname@example.org