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The provision of family-centred intensive care bereavement support in Australia and New Zealand: Results of a cross sectional explorative descriptive survey

Journal title
Australian critical care : official journal of the Confederation of Australian Critical Care Nurses
Publication year
Mitchell, M.; Coombs, M.; Wetzig, K.

BACKGROUND: Caring for the bereaved is an intrinsic part of intensive care practice with family bereavement support an important aspect of the nursing role at end of life. However, reporting on provision of intensive care family bereavement support at a national level has not been well reported since an Australian paper published ten years ago. OBJECTIVES: The objective was to investigate provision of family bereavement support in intensive care units (ICU) across New Zealand (NZ) and Australia. METHOD: A cross-sectional exploratory descriptive web-based survey was used. All ICUs [public/private, neonatal/pediatrics/adults] were included. The survey was distributed to one nursing leader from each identified ICU (n=229; 188 in Australia, 41 in NZ). Internal validity of the survey was established through piloting. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the data. Ethical approval was received by the ethics committees of two universities. RESULTS: One-hundred and fifty-three (67%) responses were received from across New Zealand and Australia with 69.3% of respondents from the public sector. Whilst respondents reported common bereavement practices to include debriefing for staff after a traumatic death (87.9%), there was greater variation in sending a sympathy card to families (NZ 54.2%, Australia 20.8%). Fifty percent of responding New Zealand units had a bereavement follow-up service compared to 28.3% of Australian unit respondents. Of those with follow-up services, 92.3% of New Zealand units undertook follow-up calls to families compared to 76.5% of Australian units. Bereavement follow-up services were mainly managed by social workers in Australia and nursing staff in New Zealand. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first Australia and New Zealand-wide survey on ICU bereavement support services. Whilst key components of family bereavement support remain consistent over the past decade, there were fewer bereavement follow-up services in responding Australian ICUs in 2015. As a quality improvement initiative, support for this area of family care remains important with rigorous evaluation essential.

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