A163: Letters of condolence: assessing attitiudes and variability in practice amongst oncologists in Yorkshire

Jessica Hayward1,Oluwatobi Makinde1,Naveen Vasudev1

1University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Presenting date: Monday 2 November
Presenting time: 12.20-13.10

Background

Following a patient death, some doctors routinely write a letter of condolence to the bereaved family. However, practice appears to vary widely. This variation and the underlying  reasons for this are poorly documented. We wished to explore the attitudes of oncologists and palliative care consultants towards writing letters of condolence to patient families

Method

A sample of 65 Oncology and Palliative care consultants from across West Yorkshire were invited via email to complete an anonymous online survey. The survey identified current practice regarding condolence letter writing and respondents’ attitudes towards this

Results

Forty seven (72%) recipients completed the survey (of whom 42% were Medical Oncologists, 44% Clinical Oncologists and 14% Palliative Care consultants). Whilst the majority (75%) reported sending condolence letters, only 16% practised this for every patient. Amongst those that sent letters, most used trust headed paper (80%) and typed their letters (80%). A standard template was used by 30%. Of the 25% who reported not sending condolences, there were a number of common reasons expressed, including lack of time (14%), feeling it is too personal (24%) and not knowing who to write to (10%). When asked directly whether they would use a standard template letter should it become available, 75% responded negatively. Many later commented that a template with room for flexibility would be better received.

Conclusion

This study identifies a gap in research into best practice regarding condolence letter writing. It may provide a platform for larger studies of a similar design to be conducted to improve understanding of this area. A single unifying policy seems unlikely to be appropriate or feasible.