Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on palliative care provision by a hospital-based unit: results from an observational study

Igiene e Sanità Pubblica 2022; 80 (3):124-135

Anita Maria Tummolo1, Maria Adelaide Ricciotti1, Eleonora Meloni1, Sabrina Dispenza1, Marcello Di Pumpo 2,3, Gianfranco Damiani 1,2,3, Christian Barillaro.1

1 Fondazione Policlinico Universitario A. Gemelli IRCCS, Largo A. Gemelli 8, 00168, Rome, Italy
2 Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo F. Vito 1, 00168, Rome, Italy
3 These authors contributed equally to this work and share last authorship


Palliative care is a key approach in improving the quality of life of patients and their families facing the end-of-life care process. It is widely regarded as a public-health concern, especially considering the rapidly increasing end-of-life care needs worldwide. Its provision has been highly challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

This study aims to analyse whether and to what extent the provision of Palliative Care to non-COVID patients provided by a hospital-based unit has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Material and methods
A retrospective observational study was performed. All non-COVID patients admitted from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020 and evaluated by the hospital-based Palliative Care team were considered. Three time periods were considered: pre-lockdown, lockdown and post-lockdown. A trend analysis and multiple linear and logistic regressions to study and quantify the statistical significance of the associations were performed.

A statistically significant positive linear trend of the number of hospitalized patients in need of Palliative Care was found over the study period. Compared to pre-lockdown, the rest of the study period presented more female and elderly patients, the length of stay and the number of patients discharged to a Hospice setting were significantly reduced. The waiting time did not change in lockdown but decreased in post-lockdown and the mortality rate was not significantly different. Also, the average number of Palliative Care consultations per patient significantly increased in the lockdown and post-lockdown.

First, the significant admissions drop between the start of the pandemic and the following study period is in line with recent literature. The consequent rebound registered may be attributed to the high pressure from outside requiring admission and care. Second, the significantly older age of patients found during the lockdown than before the lockdown could be attributed to a “selection effect” of young patients, more able to delay hospitalization than the elderly, also in line with recent literature.

Third, the shorter waiting time for Palliative Care activation the post-lockdown compared to the pre-lockdown period could be due to both increased hospital efficiency and to the greater pressure to discharge patients during the post-lockdown period. Also, the significant reduction in the lockdown and post-lockdown of the length of stay after Palliative Care activation could be explained considering both the greater receptivity of healthcare services outside the hospital, such as Hospices, and the greater pressure on hospital wards to discharge. Fourth, the unchanged in-hospital mortality rate remained over the entire period could be an indication of the high quality of care provided by this hospital setting to fragile patients, which is to be noted especially considering the average mortality rate registered during pandemic context in healthcare facilities.

The study aimed to quantify the impact of the COVID-19 on the provision of Palliative Care by a hospital-based team. We believe it might represent an innovative contribution and we hope similar research will be produced in order build the evidence for future challenges in this field.

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