BACKGROUND: Unscheduled care is used increasingly during the last year of life by people known to have significant palliative care needs.
AIM: To document the frequency and patterns of use of unscheduled healthcare by people in their last year of life and understand the experiences and perspectives of patients, families and professionals about accessing unscheduled care out-of-hours.
DESIGN: A mixed methods, multi-stage study integrating a retrospective cohort analysis of unscheduled healthcare service use in the last year of life for all people dying in Scotland in 2016 with qualitative data from three regions involving service users, bereaved carers and general practitioners.
SETTING: Three contrasting Scottish Health Board regions and national datasets for the whole of Scotland.
RESULTS: People who died in Scotland in 2016 (n = 56,407) had 472,360 unscheduled contacts with one of five services: telephone advice, primary care, ambulance service, emergency department and emergency hospital admission. These formed 206,841 individual continuous unscheduled care pathways: 65% starting out-of-hours. When accessing healthcare out-of-hours, patients and carers prioritised safety and a timely response. Their choice of which service to contact was informed by perceptions and previous experiences of potential delays and whether the outcome might be hospital admission. Professionals found it difficult to practice palliative care in a crisis unless the patient had previously been identified.
CONCLUSION: Strengthening unscheduled care in the community, together with patient and public information about how to access these services could prevent hospital admissions of low benefit and enhance community support for people living with advanced illness.
Bibliographical noteThe author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Marie Curie and Chief Scientist Office Scotland, combined grant MCRGS-07-16-37.
Data Availability StatementMore information (including de-identified data tables and topic guides) is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
- After-Hours Care
- Palliative Care
- Retrospective Studies
- Terminal Care