Skip to main content Skip to navigation

What makes palliative care needs “Complex”?: a multisite sequential explanatory mixed methods study of patients referred to specialist palliative care

Specialist palliative care (SPC) providers tend to use the term ‘complex need’ to refer to the needs of patients who require SPC. However, little is known about “complex needs” on first referral to a SPC service. This study examined which needs are present and sought the perspectives of healthcare professionals on the complexity of need on first referral to a hospice service.

Key Findings

Complexity was hard to detail or to objectively define on referral documentation alone. It appeared to be a term used to describe patients whom primary or secondary care providers felt needed specialist palliative care knowledge or support to meet their needs. Education and training in palliative care for primary care nurses and doctors and hospital clinicians could reduce the need for referral and help ensure that hospices are available to those most in need of specialist palliative care input.

Funded by:

Marie Curie

Research team members:

Anne M. Finucane, Connie Swenson, Marie Curie Hospice, Edinburgh

John I MacArtney, Rachel Perry, Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands

Hazel Lamberton, Marie Curie Hospice, Belfast

Lucy Hetheringto, Emma Carduff, Marie Curie Hospice, Glasgow

Lisa Graham–Wisener, Queen’s University, Belfast

Scott A. Murray, University of Edinburgh


February 2017 – January 2021


Dr John I MacArtney

john dot macartney at warwick dot ac dot uk