Early palliative care for people with advanced illnesses: research into practice
Boyd, Kirsty Jean
Identifying people with advanced illnesses whose health is deteriorating, assessing their needs and planning care proactively with them are healthcare priorities given the demographic trend of ageing populations in the UK and internationally. Over the past 10 years (2004-2014), I have led a series of research studies that have made an important academic contribution to improving palliative care services for patients with heart disease and advanced multimorbidity. My first paper reported secondary analysis of data generated from a qualitative study of the illness and care experiences of patients with advanced heart failure. This work used innovative, qualitative research methods to explore and understand patient, carer and health professional perspectives over time. My second study then evaluated whether health and social care services were configured and delivered in response to the needs of people with heart failure and their families. This led me to recommend an anticipatory care framework which integrated a palliative care approach with other aspects of treatment and care. Around this time, advance care planning (planning ahead to facilitate end-of-life care aligned with people’s goals and preferences) was being strongly advocated by NHS health policy makers despite limited research in the UK. For my third study, I evaluated an evidence-based, educational intervention for general practitioners while also exploring barriers and facilitators to advance care planning in primary care for patients with cancer or other advanced conditions. It was becoming increasingly clear that failure to identify people with deteriorating health and a high risk of dying in a timely way was a major barrier to more effective palliative care. The problem was greatest for patients with non-malignant conditions whose illness trajectory is much less easy to predict than in cancer populations. I therefore started to research and develop a new clinical tool designed to prompt early, proactive patient identification in routine clinical practice – the Supportive and Palliative Care Indicators Tool (SPICT). My fourth research paper reported an evaluation of the SPICT in a mixed-methods study in a large tertiary care hospital. The SPICT was then used to identify people with multimorbidity for my fifth study, a longitudinal exploration of patient and carer experiences of hospital admission and ongoing community care. In my final paper, I drew on my previous research and combined this with well-developed approaches to timely identification and effective communication. I described the design of a successful pilot randomised trial of future care planning with people who had advanced heart disease and their carers. This thesis presents a critical review of these six research studies setting them in context and demonstrating the impact they have had in ensuring that high quality research evidence informs current and future developments in palliative care policy and clinical practice.