Families claim they were 'left in the dark' during relatives' final days
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A relative of a man who spent 23 days alone in hospital before his death has revealed they had to agree to withdraw treatment without seeing him during the Covid pandemic.
The tragic scenario was revealed as part of a report published by Healthwatch Suffolk into end of life communication in the county and will be used to help bring about improvements.
The report was commissioned to help the organisation better understand the experiences of those who have lost loved ones, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.
The lockdowns significantly hit visiting capabilities in hospitals, hospices and care homes across the county, with many patients unable to spend their final moments with loved ones.
Only 55% of respondents agreed they had access to all information they needed surrounding death, with others saying they felt they were left in the dark.
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One person who withdrew treatment for their father during Covid-19 restrictions described the harsh reality of losing a loved one during the pandemic.
They said: "He spent 23 days alone in hospital due to lockdown. As named next of kin, I was given information daily.
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"It was hard to get through to the hospital to get that information…Because of a speech impediment, he was unable to communicate by phone. So, it meant I was asked to withdraw treatment without seeing him.
"I have to live with that. I finally got to say goodbye on the phone 30 minutes before he died, but I don’t know if he understood.”
There is estimated to have been around 2,000 excess deaths in Suffolk and north Essex in the 12 months from March 2020.
Healthwatch Suffolk has recommended providers ensure people have access to information and tools they need, improving communication between providers and family members.
It also called for providers to ensure all conversations are compassionate and signpost people to support.
Wendy Herber, independent chair of the organisation, said she is confident the "remarkable" responses will lead to improvements in end of life care.
She said: "We believe there are a number of ways people’s experiences could be improved and this includes things like making sure people have access to the information and tools they need to prepare for a death, the continued development of new technologies to improve care planning, better integration of services, and making sure every contact with health and care professionals is compassionate."
Lisa Nobes, director of nursing at the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System, added: "There are clearly some areas where we need to make improvements, such as being able to ensure everybody receives consistently good emotional support, communication and involvement in decision making and care planning.
"I can assure you that the stories people from our local communities have shared will be put to good use, and I would like to thank them all for being so open and honest."