By Helen Malo

IN a nation where talking about death and dying can still feel like a taboo, Covid-19 and the consequential death-laden headlines have made us face up to the, often, uncomfortable realities about the care and support we would want for ourselves and our loved ones at the end of life. And the reality is - these issues are very important and need to be addressed.

Never before in this generation have we witnessed the amount of death as during the pandemic. It is suggested that for each person that dies, five people – their loved ones, family and friends – are left dealing with grief and bereavement. With 9,997 registered Covid-19 deaths in Scotland to date (as of April 4), more than 49,000 are likely to have been bereaved as a result. That is a staggering amount, and the direct impact on families, carers and wider society has been immense, bringing the challenges of grief and bereavement into sharp focus.

With the beginning of 2021 seeing a spike in infection rates and consequential deaths, we also should not forget the impact bereavement and trauma has had on frontline health and social care workers, as they continue to deal with huge levels of working hours, stress and grief.

Yet, while lockdown measures slowly ease, more people will still face the death of a loved one. With society being ill prepared in dealing with death, dying and bereavement, more provisions and bereavement support need to be available to help Scotland cope and recover, now and into the future.

Throughout the pandemic, Scottish hospices have been offering specialist support for people facing bereavement. The family and bereavement support team at St Columba’s Hospice Care has provided telephone and video counselling support; Ardgowan Hospice, Greenock, has extended its family support service to people bereaved by, or affected by, Covid-19 in its community, including 1:1 emotional support, and support groups for adults, children and young people; and St Margaret of Scotland Hospice has been running virtual emotional and bereavement support for those who need it. And there are many more great examples from the sector.

As Scotland gears up for its elections this May, we have a chance to reflect and learn from Covid-19 – and to ask how we can become a nation where everyone experiencing death, dying and bereavement receives the care and support they need.

Scotland’s Bereavement Charter for Children and Adults, which sets out what the best bereavement care and support should look like, is very welcome. But now is the time for action.

This is why Hospice UK is calling on all political parties to make palliative and bereavement care a priority, so that we can support people to live as fully and as well as they can to the end of their lives, however long that may be. In particular, we urge the next Scottish Government to plan for, invest in and develop the infrastructure for bereavement support, from building capacity and resilience within local communities to more formal bereavement services, so everyone who is bereaved can receive the support they need.

Helen Malo is Hospice UK's Policy and Advocacy Manager in Scotland