An inconsistent approach to commissioning bereavement support is creating a “postcode lottery” and risks older people being left without the help they need, a new report has found.
In a Freedom of Information request to Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and local authorities (LAs) focused on emotional and psychological support, as well as practical information and advice, Independent Age found that there is no clear responsibility for providing or commissioning this type of bereavement support, with CCGs and LAs adopting different approaches in different areas.
Despite COVID-19 increasing both the number of bereaved people and the number experiencing traumatic bereavement, the findings show that just 22% of CCGs and 17% LAs have provided additional funding for bereavement support.
In at least 56 local authority areas, no additional Covid-19 bereavement funding has been put in place by either the local authority or local CCGs, and just under a third (32%) of CCGs and 56% LAs had not commissioned bereavement services at all within the last three years.
The study also showed that there are at least 12 local authority areas where no bereavement support is commissioned by either the local authority or CCG.
Deborah Alsina MBE, chief executive of Independent Age, said: “Undoubtedly the shocking death toll from COVID-19 has meant that more people are being left to struggle through a bereavement alone, but we know this lack of support isn’t a new problem.
“For years, bereavement support has been disparate, unconnected and highly localised. People in later life frequently tell us they are unaware of what support is available or how to access it.”
“It has never been more urgent for the Government to recognise the vital role bereavement support plays and make it a funding priority. The Department of Health and Social Care must implement a bereavement strategy with improved oversight to ensure everyone is given the support they need at what can be the worst time of their life, regardless of where they live.”
In the first lockdown alone, Independent Age estimates that up to 98,000 people aged over 65 were bereaved of a partner.
Due to the restrictions in place during the pandemic, Independent Age believe the number of people experiencing complex grief will be much higher.
Previous research from the charity found that older people are more likely to have worse physical and mental health as a result of bereavement than younger people. And an older person whose partner has died is more likely to die in the three months following their partner’s death than someone who hasn’t been bereaved.