Bereavement care provision in palliative care – a European descriptive and consensus-building exercise


Bereavement care is an explicit aspect of holistic palliative care which extends to caring for those who are important to the patient (WHO, 2002). Bereavement care ensures that families and significant others are supported from the time of diagnosis and in the time after the patient’s death. It may involve information, practical support, social support and for some, counselling and psychological support. US, Canadian, Australian, British and European models of bereavement care have developed since the beginning of the modern hospice movement in the 1960s. These models involve a range of approaches to, assessments for and provision of bereavement care which include individual, family and group interventions and volunteer supports. (Field et al 2004; O’Connor et al 2009; Aranda and Milne, 2000; Relf, Machin and Archer, 2010) In addition, bereavement supports vary in the extent to which they interact with community models of bereavement support and primary care (Field et al 2007), the constituency they serve (i.e. only hospice-bereaved families or open to whole community) and in the extent to which they can be described as targetted at those in need, those already experiencing difficulty or universally open to all (NICE, 2004, Currier et al, 2008; Schut and Stroebe 2005, Aoun et al, 2012). In pracitice bereavement care may also be offered in an ad-hoc manner, relative to the resources and skills of the service. Informal and broad community support intiatives can provide responsive care, which fits with tradition and a community’s natural way of doing things.

Moreover, while bereavement care is properly of the remit of all care professionals in palliative care, there is variation in the disciplines which lead the development of bereavement services internationally – including social work, psychology, nursing, counselling, chaplaincy, and volunteer coordinators.
While some literature is available on how bereavement services have evolved and developed in the West, there is little available as yet on Eastern Europe and further afield. In addition, there is some concern that what we know about bereavement is biased in favour of the white, western female experience and is based primarily on clinical populations (Wortman and Silver, 2001).

Current thinking links bereavement care to a public health approach. Only small proportions of bereaved people require psychotherapeutic intervention (circa 10 to 15%), a somewhat larger proportion may benefit from trained volunteer and/or professional listening & support service and all could utilise enhanced information, assurance and communication (NICE, 2004; Aroun, 2012). A public health approach seeks to make sure people get the help that is matched to their need.

This task force aims to 

  1. Describe current practices for adult bereavement services in palliative care settings; COMPLETE
  2. Develop a set of broad recommendations and,  COMPLETE
  3. Develop a European consensus. UNDERWAY

The task force is underpinned by the following principles

  1. To maintain a broad perspective such that the task force has relevance across Europe, regardless of economic development, the extent of formal palliative care development and the wider health and social care systems
  2. To develop the task force by describing current practice and exploring feasible pathways for development
  3. To produce practical recommendations which are based in best evidence
  4. To promote the integration of bereavement support in palliative care with the broader community – including primary care, community and voluntary care.

Aims and associated methods

  1. Develop a baseline description of current bereavement care in palliative care services represented in the EAPC – in Phase One we surveyed known bereavement service providers and convened a discussion group at EAPC Congress (2013). The survey facilitated cross-country comparison, it was distributed through national palliative care associations with representation from the three regions outlined in the EAPC Atlas and supported by EAPC existing task forces.
  2. Develop a statement of recommendations for best practice in bereavement care based on current practice and evidence – in Phase Two statements based on literature and survey data have been complied and  reviewed by an expert advisory group (Round one Delphi)
  3. Seek a consensus on these recommendations – Recommendations have been distributed to a panel of bereavement practitioners, managers and services across Europe (Round two Delphi) and results are now being prepared for Round 3

The overall goal is to promote best practice in bereavement care as a core objective of palliative care across Europe. 

The task force involves a core task force steering committee (comprising co-chairs, one link member from each of the social work and recently completed psychology task forces and expert members from European countries), a membership of interested parties and an advisory group drawn from practice, policy and academic representatives spanning a range of disciplines.

The advisory group has reviewed and commented in detail on recommendations and statements of best practice prior to their circulation for consensus through a Delphi process.  (February 2017). 


Irene Murphy


Marymount University Hospice
Cork, Ireland
click here to contact by email

Orla Keegan


Irish Hospice Foundation
Dublin, Ireland  
click here to contact by email

Steering committee

Inger Benkel (Sweden)

Mai-Britt Guldin (Denmark)

Joaquin Limonero (Spain)

Marilyn Relf (UK)

Karl Bitschnau (Austria) – EAPC Board link


  • Irish Hospice Foundation 
  • All Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care 
  • Irish Association for Palliative Care
  • Association of Bereavement Coordinators (UK)