Background: District nurses are frequently involved in the care of patients immediately prior to death and could therefore provide support to bereaved relatives. However, little is known about nurses' views on bereavement support or their actual involvement.
Aims of the study: To survey a representative sample of district nurses to ascertain their current practice and perceived role in supporting bereaved people and to identify factors that influence their practice.
Design and method: A self-completed postal questionnaire was distributed anonymously to 522 district nurses in the central southern coastal area of Britain. It comprised five sections: interest in and education about bereavement; a Likert scale to measure nurses' views about bereavement care; information about the practice with which the nurse had links; bereavement care provided by the practice; and demographics.
Results: A 62% response rate was achieved following two reminders. Sixty-nine per cent reported having an interest in bereavement support. Logistic regression modelling identified older age of the nurse and district of employment as the best predictors of interest in bereavement, and older age of the nurse, district of employment and higher level of academic qualification (having a diploma or degree) as the best predictors of active follow-up bereavement visiting. Ninety five percent of district nurses believed their role should involve visiting bereaved relatives/carers of patients they have nursed, but only 19% believed they should visit bereaved people when the deceased was not their patient.
Conclusions: Older age, higher qualifications and district of employment among district nurses were associated with greater interest in bereavement and more proactive care of bereaved people. The findings of this survey have important implications for the training, continued education and the extended role of the nurse in bereavement support.