The impact of providing end-of-life care during a pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of health and social care staff: Systematic review and meta-synthesis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Disease outbreaks and disasters can result in excess deaths and severe disruption of usual end-of-life care processes. We aimed to: i) synthesise evidence describing the experiences of health and social care staff providing end-of-life care during a disease outbreak or humanitarian disaster, ii) understand the impact on their mental health and wellbeing and, iii) identify means of support. Methods: A systematic review with meta-synthesis was conducted including studies of health and social care staff providing end-of-life care during disease outbreaks (Ebola, COVID-19, SARs, MERs) or humanitarian disasters (2001–2020). MEDLINE (Ovid), Embase, PsycInfo, Web of Science, and grey literature databases were searched systematically, with forward and backward citation searching of included studies. Any research study designs, in any care settings, were included. Study quality was assessed using an appraisal tool relevant to each study design. Qualitative meta-synthesis was used to analyse the findings, which were then reported narratively. PROSPERO registration: CRD42020181444. Results: Nineteen studies were included, including 10 Ebola studies and two COVID-19 studies. The analysis generated two superordinate themes: individual experience and organisational responsibilities. Individual experience comprised four themes: dignity in death, positive experiences, negative experience and support for staff. Organisational responsibilities comprised four themes: preparation, adaption, resources, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Discussion: No studies quantitively measured the impact of providing end-of-life care on staff mental health and wellbeing, however qualitative studies described experiences in varied settings. Serious disease outbreaks and disasters can expose care staff to abnormally high levels of mortality and suffering. Health and social care systems need to proactively prepare for future events and enable peer support mechanisms that may help mitigate experiences of psychological distress in humanitarian crises.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114397
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date13 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • COVID-19
  • End-of-life care
  • Health care staff
  • Humanitarian disaster
  • Mental health
  • Pandemic
  • Social care staff
  • Wellbeing

Cite this