‘More support’ needed to help people cope with grief after Wales saw 34,000 ‘excess bereavements’ during pandemic
More support is needed to help those coping with grief after Wales saw 34,000 “excess bereavements” during the pandemic, an independent commission has said.
The UK Commission on Bereavement (UKCB) said in a new report published today that they found huge gaps in support for bereaved people after a survey of adults and children in Wales.
The report, Bereavement is everyone’s business, from the UKCB today, calculates that there were 367,670 bereavements in Wales during the pandemic – with around 34,000 excess bereavements during this period compared to the previous five-year average.
Rhondda Cynon Taf saw the highest number of excess bereavements, with 3,720 more between March 2020 and December 2021 – more than 29,000 in total.
The number of excess bereavements is calculated by multiplying the number of excess deaths by five in line with academic research.
The UKCB said that they found huge gaps in support for bereaved people. Over 40% of adult respondents who wanted formal bereavement support didn’t get any support, and of the bereaved children who contributed to the UKCB’s report, half said they did not get the support they needed from their schools and colleges.
This has led to the UKCB calling for more funding from all governments in the UK, and it is sending a clear message that robust strategies to deal with bereavement now and in the future are desperately needed.
With the Wales National Framework for Bereavement Care published in October 2021, huge progress has been made in the bereavement space. However, the UKCB is calling for Welsh Government to ensure the framework is implemented using a cross-departmental approach and specifically targets under-served groups. In addition, the UKCB says schools and employers should be required to have a bereavement policy.
Jess Childs, who wrote a book to help children deal with grief after the deaths of her father from suicide and her mother from cancer, said she would not have been able to deal with those deaths without support following them.
“I think talking therapies are particularly important in the aftermath of a sudden death, like my dad’s was, but in any case, it’s important to have someone there who can help you make sense of what you are feeling, and why, before you carry those emotions into your life beyond that bereavement,” she said.
“I definitely think counselling and other therapies need to be more available to children as those least likely to be able to sort out their emotions following the death of someone close, and yet most likely to be overlooked for this kind of support at the time of losing a loved one, particularly if they are not immediate family like a parent or a sibling.”
Jess is now working with schools in her capacity as a children’s author, speaking to pupils around the theme of love and loss.
She added: “I do feel schools need more support in how they approach the topic of death with their students in general.
“As far as I was aware, nobody else was having these kinds of conversations with my little girls at the time they were preparing to return to the classroom following the loss of two people they loved, and in the middle of a global pandemic.
“My experience generally is that the level of support you receive within the wider community following a bereavement often depends on whether those reaching out to you have ever experienced anything similar themselves.”
She believes a formal Bereavement Policy would enable staff to provide a “more comprehensive and consistent level of support to families”.
‘Part of all our lives’
Today’s UKCB report also identified that there is a particular need to focus on better supporting Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and others who are currently poorly served.
Additionally, it says that many people facing bereavement are amongst the very hardest hit by the cost of living crisis. The commission calls for bereavement-related benefits to be extended to key groups who currently miss out and increased at least in line with costs of living.
Dr Emily Harrop, from the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Centre based at Cardiff University, said: “The sheer scale of unmet need for bereavement support and the inequity people face, as further highlighted in the UKCB report, is incredibly upsetting and adds to people’s distress at an already difficult time.
“Bereavement is a part of all our lives but going through it without the support you need can be devastating to many.
“More awareness of support options, information on grief and bereavement services should be provided proactively following a death and made available online and in the community, and I would urge policy makers to take the findings in this report on board. I hope this report will inform the ongoing work of the Welsh Government and others to improve people’s experiences of bereavement, and that it will go some way to offering new hope for the future and encouraging people to talk more openly about death, dying and bereavement.”
Dr Idris Baker, a UKCB Commissioner and National Clinical Lead for Palliative and End of Life Care in Wales and Chair of the National Bereavement Steering Group for Wales, said they were seeing progress in ensuring professional support was accessible to anyone in Wales experiencing bereavement.
“However, we know we need to go further,” he said.
“Listening to the harrowing experiences from those we have spoken to and taking in the stark findings of the Commission, it is clear that there is more to do.
“We are continually working to improve what’s on offer and to ensure we come together across our communities to support grieving friends and family, particularly those who haven’t been able to access the support they need.
“The recommendations set out in the report will inform the ongoing work of the Welsh Government and others to improve people’s experiences of bereavement wherever they are in Wales and whatever their experience of bereavement.”
The UKCB is an independent commission, and is chaired by The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, the Bishop of London.
She is joined by 15 commissioners reflecting diverse professional and cultural backgrounds from across the four UK nations.
The UKCB asked for evidence of bereavement experiences from the last five years, although it is apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges around bereavement for many people.
To read the full report and recommendations from the UKCB visit here.
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