Article Text

After-death care and the hidden role of palliative care nurses
  1. Julie A Stuart, Registered Nurse,
  2. Professor Margaret O’Connor, Vivian Bullwinkel Chair in Palliative Care Nursing,
  3. Dr Louise Peters, Louise Peters is Research Fellow and
  4. Melissa Bloomer, Lecturer
  1. Southern Health, Victoria
  2. Palliative Care Research Team
  3. Palliative Care Research Team
  4. School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Victoria, Australia. Email: margaret.oconnor{at}


Background In most hospital environments emphasis is placed on time management and efficiency in all aspects of patient care. This emphasis also exists in palliative care units (PCUs), where there may be a lack of recognition of the complexity of care required.

Aim The aim of this quality improvement study was to examine the work and time associated with after-death care in a PCU in Australia. This included determining the length of time required to carry out after-death care, which factors lengthen an after-death episode and which health professionals provide after-death support for the bereaved family/friends and the amount and nature of that support. These findings were then compared with similar research carried out in 2005.

Methods Nurses completed a questionnaire following the death of a patient during two designated data-collection periods in the PCU. Each data-collection period lasted 1 month. Findings from both data-collection periods were examined separately and collectively.

Results Caring for the deceased patient is time consuming. Many processes and factors were identified that contribute to the ‘hidden’ nature of this work, e.g. care/counselling of family, religious/cultural requirements, staff availability, funeral directors and pastoral carers.

Conclusion The study provides a valuable insight into the work involved with after-death care, factors which surround after-death care and the unacknowledged role of the nurse in after-death care.

Conflicts of interest None

  • After-death care
  • Bereavement
  • Multidisciplinary working
  • Nursing role
  • Palliative and end-of-life care

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