Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

What works in ‘real life’ to facilitate home deaths and fewer hospital admissions for those at end of life?: results from a realist evaluation of new palliative care services in two English counties

Lesley Wye*, Gemma Lasseter, John Percival, Lorna Duncan, Bethany Simmonds and Sarah Purdy

Author Affiliations

Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall, 39 Whatley Road, Bristol BS8 2PS, UK

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BMC Palliative Care 2014, 13:37  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-13-37

Published: 28 July 2014



We evaluated end of life care services in two English counties including: coordination centres, telephone advice line, ‘Discharge in Reach’ nurses, a specialist community personal care team and community nurse educators. Elsewhere, we published findings detailing high family carer satisfaction and fewer hospital admissions, Accident and Emergency attendances and hospital deaths for service users compared to controls. The aim of this paper is to discuss what contributed to those outcomes.


Using realist evaluation, data collection included documentation (e.g. referral databases), 15 observations of services and interviews with 43 family carers and 105 professionals. Data were analysed using framework analysis, applying realist evaluation concepts. Findings were discussed at successive team meetings and further data was collected until team consensus was reached.


Services ‘worked’ primarily for those with cancer with ‘fast track’ funding who were close to death. Factors contributing to success included services staffed with experienced palliative care professionals with dedicated (and sufficient) time for difficult conversations with family carers, patients and/or clinical colleagues about death and the practicalities of caring for the dying. Using their formal and informal knowledge of the local healthcare system, they accessed community resources to support homecare and delivered excellent services. This engendered confidence and reassurance for staff, family carers and patients, possibly contributing to less hospital admissions and A&E attendances and more home deaths.


With demand for 24-hour end of life care growing and care provision fragmented across health and social care boundaries, services like these that cut across organisational sectors may become more important. They offer an overview to help navigate those desiring a home death through the system.