Exclusive: How Covid is preventing the majority of people from saying goodbye to loved ones
One of the cruelest aspects of coronavirus is that family and friends have had to keep their distance from loved ones in their final hours.
It's made their grief even more more agonising, with the exceptional difficulties faced outlined in the first UK-wide survey of bereavement during the pandemic.
Researchers at Cardiff University and the University of Bristol wanted to give a voice to the tens of thousands of people bereaved since March.
The team's findings from the first 532 respondents have been shared exclusively with ITV News and The Guardian newspaper.
They found it wasn't just the separation that was upsetting but the lack of information - both before and after a death.
Almost three quarters (70%) of those whose loved-ones died of Covid-19 had limited contact with them in the last days of their life.
85% were unable to say goodbye as they would have liked and three quarters (75%) experienced social isolation and loneliness.
But getting the right help has also been difficult - just over half (51%) were not provided with any information about bereavement support and 56% of people who tried to access services experienced difficulties.
Dr Emily Harrop, from the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Centre at Cardiff University, said: “The survey results so far show the exceptional challenges of pandemic bereavement in terms of difficult experiences at the end of life, restricted funerals and social isolation.
Bereaved people also report problems accessing support. It is crucial that policy makers and those providing care and support to patients make changes to better support family members and close friends before and after a death.”
Jayne Taylor-Broadbent lost her wife Julie to Covid in May. The virus killed her in just four days, after she went into hospital for a routine operation.
While Jayne got a few snatched minutes at her bedside, the rest of Julie’s family could not say goodbye.
“They were very, very close,” said Jayne. “She never got to see her daughter, her sister, her mum; they all had to hear it through me. If I can’t come to terms with it, it must be even harder for them.”
Like Jayne, Maureen Craig also had to spend two weeks alone in isolation after the death of her husband Geoff. They had been married for 45 years.
“I had to tell my daughter her dad was dead, he was gone. She was sobbing and I couldn’t hug her. She drove me home but couldn’t touch me and when she drove off, I remember pressing my hands to the glass, thinking: How am I going to be able to do this?”
The report’s co-author, Dr Lucy Selman from the University of Bristol, said: “With each death leaving around five people bereaved, 2.6 million people have been bereaved in the UK at a time of profound disruption to our social support networks as well as intense pressure on health and social care.
"We now have the opportunity to prevent a further mental health crisis by implementing our recommendations to improve end of life care and bereavement support.”
To take part in the survey before December 31st visit the Covid Bereavement website. The team would urgently like to hear from more bereaved men and people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
If you have been affected by the issues in this report you can find help at Cruse Bereavement Care.