'Focus on Covid led to lack of palliative care for cancer patients'

8/25/2021
The overwhelming attention on patients suffering from Covid-19 during the pandemic has led to depletion in focus towards patients with life-threatening incurable diseases like cancer who are in need of palliative care, as per a study conducted by the Goa Institute of Management.

The inter-state study, whose objective was to broadly understand the social determinants and satisfaction of cancer patients under palliative care in Kerala and Goa during Covid-19 pandemic, as well as to explore the patients' satisfaction vis-a-vis their care during the pandemic, has also advocated long-term strategies beyond the pandemic, to strengthen palliative care services in order to deal with future disasters.

"The severity of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in limited provision of palliative care services throughout the country. Physicians and nurses who are trained in palliative care have often been deployed to deliver emergency care for people with Covid-19. When the healthcare system is overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, and the resources are limited, cancer patients may have limited access to the healthcare system and are able to avail supportive treatment only," as per the study conducted by Dr Vilasini Devi Nair and Prof Vithal Sukhathankar, faculty members at the state's leading B-School.

"In a context of resource constraints, priority has been given to interventions aimed at saving people's lives over palliating discomfort among seriously-ill people and their families. Governments must urgently recognise the role of palliative care during Covid-19 pandemic and ensure these services should be integrated into the healthcare system response in a creative way," the study also adds.

The research, based on interviews with randomly-selected cancer patients admitted to palliative care facilities in the two states, also underlines the importance of focusing on "designing immediate strategies for effective implementation of palliative care during Covid-19".

"Instead of admissions, outpatient visits and follow-up through phone calls were given priority. At the same time, we observed that many critically-ill patients were not admitted in cancer care facilities and hence progressed to a serious stage," the study further states, adding that patients with severe pain, bleeding and in final stage with metastasis were sidelined from the general healthcare system and they were taken care at palliative centres in the last moments.

The study comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has led to significant damage to the global population, and is redefining the global healthcare scenario.

"Moreover, there are several resource limitations and restrictions to avail standard cancer care due to robust measures taken for infection control. In this situation, palliative care in cancer patients is risky and they deserve special attention. Their symptom management, psychological, social, cultural needs tremendously increase during the epidemic. Thus, we need to recognise the unique palliative care needs of cancer patients during the pandemic," the study says.

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