Perceived policy-related barriers to palliative care implementation: a qualitative descriptive study
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionAregay, A. F., O'Connor, M., Stow, J., Ayers, N. & Lee, S. (2023). Perceived policy-related barriers to palliative care implementation: a qualitative descriptive study. Palliative Care & Social Practice, 17. https://doi.org/10.1177/26323524231198542
Background: Ethiopia has a national palliative care guideline, and palliative care is explicitly recognised in the country’s healthcare policy and health sector transformation plans. However, palliative care is not fully delivered in the regional public hospitals and primary health care units.Objective: This study explores perceived policy barriers to deliver palliative care services in rural and regional healthcare settings, which primary healthcare units largely serve.Design: Face-to-face interviews were conducted in a rural region of Ethiopia.Methods: Forty-two participants were recruited from a variety of health settings including primary, secondary and tertiary levels across the region. Interviews were conducted with policymakers from the regional health bureau, pharmacists, medical doctors, health officers (clinical officers) and nurses, including chief nursing officers in leadership roles at all levels of healthcare institutions. Data analysed using thematic analysis.Results: Participants described several barriers related to healthcare policy, including lack of government priority and focus on palliative care; lack of health professionals’ awareness of the national palliative care plans and guidelines; and lack of palliative care integration into the existing healthcare system and the national budget. Participants remarked that palliative care services in the region were mainly limited to HIV patients, often managed with external support and, hence unsustainable.Conclusions: Policy priority and focus is a fundamental component for the provision of palliative care because lack of focus and support from the government have led to inadequate access to palliative care for all in need. Hence, as participants suggested, palliative care should be integrated into all healthcare levels, particularly into the primary health care units and the health extension programme, to facilitate health extension workers to support millions living in rural areas.