Medical Research Council funds CovPall study

6th July 2020

Researchers at the Cicely Saunders Institute have been awarded funding for a rapid evaluation of the COVID-19 pandemic response in palliative and end of life care (CovPall). This work is being supported by Cicely Saunders International, the Medical Research Council (ref MR/V012908/1) and the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care, South London, now recommissioned as NIHR Applied Research Collaboration, South London. Project partners are EAPC, Marie Curie, Palliative care Outcome Scale Development Team, Together for Short Lives, Sue Ryder and Hospice UK.  

The study is evaluating the palliative care response to the pandemic nationally and internationally. It is looking at the national delivery of palliative care and end of life care to establish the impact of the pandemic on the workforce, service organisation, and symptom management.

The COVID-19 pandemic is placing an unprecedented strain on health care services. Although many people survive, an estimated 1 to 4% die from this disease. Some of the symptoms, such as breathlessness, fever, agitation and pain, are very distressing. But in this new disease these symptoms are not well understood. Palliative care services are playing a key role in response to the pandemic, adapting rapidly to this situation in different ways. This research aims to rapidly evaluate the palliative care response in COVID-19 to improve care now and in the future.  There are two main components, called work packages (WPs), to the research.  

WP1 surveys palliative care medical or nursing leads, about their changes in practice, how they use the workforce and volunteers, their innovations and challenges. WP2 collects data about patients’ symptoms, how they change over time, and the effectiveness of treatments.  

The research team is collecting this information immediately and quickly, and then repeating the data collection after 6-8 weeks to understand how practice is changing. The research involves patients, families, the public, policy makers and services in all stages of the research and the team will share early findings with these groups to help catalyse an effective response.   

The research is led by: Professor Irene J Higginson (Chief Investigator), Professor Catherine Walshe, Professor Fliss Murtagh, Professor Nancy Preston, Dr Katherine Sleeman, Dr Matthew Maddocks, Dr Sabrina Bajwah, and Professor Lorna Fraser.

The team includes ECRs (Early Career Researchers) Dr Mev Hocaoglu and Dr Adejoke Oluyase.

Palliative care services have played a focal role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an early career researcher, I am delighted to be working with senior members of the research team to capture palliative care contributions in the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges and strategies used to address them. Our findings will enable better preparation for future or new pandemics” – Dr Adejoke Oluyase

“Palliative care services have been at the frontline of the pandemic. Documenting this and having the opportunity to  gain further insights into this striking palliative care response to the pandemic has truly been remarkable.   Having the opportunity to work with study collaborators, partners, sites, colleagues, mentors and services at national and international level on this important project and critical times has been invaluable to me as an early career researcher in palliative care” – Dr Mevhibe Hocaoglu