Few studies have examined whether access to, and quality of, specialised palliative care changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study investigated changes in access to and quality of specialised palliative care during the pandemic in Denmark compared to previously.
An observational study using data from the Danish Palliative Care Database combined with other nationwide registries was conducted, including 69 696 patients referred to palliative care services in Denmark from 2018 to 2022. Study outcomes included number of referrals and admissions to palliative care, and the proportions of patients fulfilling four palliative care quality indicators. The indicators assessed admissions among referred, waiting time from referral to admission, symptom screening using the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionaire-Core-15-Palliative Care (EORTC QLQ-C15-PAL) questionnaire at admission, and discussion at multidisciplinary conference. Logistic regression analysed whether the probability of fulfilling each indicator differed between the pandemic period and pre-pandemic, while adjusting for possible confounders.
Number of referrals and admissions to specialised palliative care were lower during the pandemic. The odds for being admitted within 10 days of referral was higher during the pandemic (OR: 1.38; 95% CI: 1.32 to 1.45) whereas the odds for answering the EORTC questionnaire (0.88; 95% CI: 0.85 to 0.92) and for being discussed at multidisciplinary conference (0.93; 95% CI: 0.89 to 0.97) were lower compared with pre-pandemic.
Fewer patients were referred to specialised palliative care during the pandemic, and fewer were screened for palliative care needs. In future pandemics or similar scenarios, it is important to pay special attention to referral rates and to maintain the same high level of specialised palliative care.