The role of healthcare support workers in providing palliative and end-of-life care in the community: a systematic literature review

Oliver R. Herber, Bridget M. Johnston

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    47 Citations (Scopus)


    Despite the widespread use of Health Care Support Workers (HCSWs) in providing palliative and end-of-life care, there is little information available about their contributions towards supporting patients who want to be cared for at home or to die at home. Between January and April 2011, a systematic review was conducted to address two questions: (i) What particular tasks/roles do HCSWs perform when caring for people at the end of life and their families to comply with their desire to remain at home?; (ii) What are the challenges and supporting factors that influence HCSWs' ability to provide palliative and end-of-life care in the community? Databases searched for relevant articles published between 1990 until April 2011 included CINAHL, EMBASE, PsychINFO, British Nursing Index, Web of Science, Medline and ASSIA. In total, 1695 papers were identified and their titles and abstracts were read. Ten papers met the eligibility criteria of the study. After the methodological quality of the studies was appraised, nine papers were included in the review. Judgements regarding eligibility and quality were undertaken independently by the authors. The findings indicate that HCSWs invest a great deal of their time on emotional and social support as well as on assisting in the provision of personal care. They are also involved in providing care for the dying, respite care for family members and offer domestic support. Although it is important to acknowledge the many positive aspects that HCSWs provide, the findings suggest three challenges in the HCSWs role: emotional attachment, role ambiguity and inadequate training. Support factors such as informal peer grief-support groups, sense of cohesiveness among HCSWs and task orientation enabled HCSWs to overcome these challenges. To conclude, induction and training programmes, a defined period of preceptorship, appropriate support, supervision and clearly defined role boundaries may be helpful in reducing the challenges identified in HCSWs' roles.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)225-235
    Number of pages11
    JournalHealth and Social Care in the Community
    Issue number3
    Early online date13 Sept 2012
    Publication statusPublished - May 2013


    • Health Care Support Workers
    • Certified nursing assistant
    • Community setting
    • End-of-life care
    • Literature review
    • Palliative care


    Dive into the research topics of 'The role of healthcare support workers in providing palliative and end-of-life care in the community: a systematic literature review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this