Gaps in support for grieving families will be addressed, bereavement minister Nadine Dorries pledged as she addressed the launch of the UK Commission on Bereavement.
“We are aware that there are gaps, both in the provision of bereavement services and support, and research into it,” she said.
“And we are committed to addressing this and fully understanding how important and useful this national commission will be in helping us to achieve this.”
Ms Dorries was speaking at a panel event sharing early research that found the majority of people seeking help with their grief have struggled to access bereavement services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The study by Cardiff University’s Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Centre and the University of Bristol found many people struggling after a bereavement faced long waiting lists for support or were told they were not eligible.
“A lot of the suffering is being faced across the nation, in every village, in every town across the nation,” Ms Dorries said.
“It’s been something that we are acutely aware of, and it’s important moving forward that we realise and acknowledge that bereaved people have their voices heard.”
She added: “One of my highest priorities remains that people who are experiencing the pain and grief of bereavement are not left to suffer alone.
“We must ensure that those who are bereaved have access to support, should they need it, when they need it.”
Ms Dorries said she recognised that bereavement support services were not equally accessible across the country and condemned the fact that someone’s geographical location could impact their level of support.
The survey, of 711 adults bereaved between March and December 2020, is believed to be the first to highlight the experiences of those trying to get support after the death of a loved one during the pandemic.
Most participants had not tried to access support, but more than half (56%) of those who did experienced difficulties.
And four in 10 respondents (39%) reported difficulties in getting support from friends and family.
Led by Dr Emily Harrop and Dr Lucy Selman, it was published as a pre-print on the MedRxiv website and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.
The authors are calling for information on grief and bereavement services to be proactively provided after a death, and for GPs to be better resourced so they can direct people to support.
They also want to see more help to combat isolation, including flexible support bubbles for the recently bereaved if restrictions on social contact are in place.
The panel acknowledged the disproportionate impact on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds during the pandemic and ensured it will be “an essential task of the commission to consider the perspectives of people from those communities”.
The independent commission, made up of 15 commissioners and supported by charities including Marie Curie, will explore issues faced by people bereaved during the pandemic and make recommendations on how better to support them.
The commission will also include the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Zara Mohammed, and Patrick Vernon OBE, who is a social commentator and Windrush campaigner.