Was there a plan? End-of-life care for children with life-limiting conditions: a review of multi-service healthcare records
Planning for care at the end of life (EoL) is an essential component of support and care for families of children with life-limiting conditions. The purpose of this review was to compare documented EoL planning with published children's palliative care standards, across a range of children's healthcare services and to assess the impact on practice of written guidelines to support EoL care planning.
A manual retrospective review of healthcare records using a purpose-built form. Inclusion criteria were the records of children with a diagnosed life-limiting or life-threatening condition, who had died before the age of 18 years, between October 2008 and March 2010, within a defined geographical area served by one or more of the participating services. The sample was 114 sets of notes relating to a cohort of 48 children: 24 girls and 24 boys, the majority of whose deaths were cancer related.
Examples of good practice were found in the records of individual services. Services had each developed their own systems and documents to support EoL care planning rather than using a unified documentation system. Where documented practice fell short, this was related to a lack of evidence that choice in location of death had been offered, delays in sharing of information between services, and information being buried in the narrative of the notes, making it difficult to find.
Current documented EoL planning varies between services. Those who are infrequently involved in the provision of EoL care may benefit from support by those for whom this is part of their daily working life. These professionals can help prepare staff to engage families in these difficult but important conversations – and encourage them to document them in a way that can be easily and readily accessed and shared.