Multidisciplinary working in palliative care: Challenges and achievements in the past decades

Only 34 days to #EAPC2020 … The 11th World Research Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) which, for the first time ever, will take place online with interactive online sessions 7 to 9 October 2020 and on-demand content available from 21 September.

Ahead of the congress, we’re delighted to give some highlights of what’s in store at #EAPC2020. Today, Professor Sheila Payne, Emeritus Chair at the International Observatory on End of Life Care, Lancaster University, United Kingdom, gives a glimpse of the plenary lecture she will give at the congress on 9 October 2020, followed by a live panel discussion.

Professor Sheila Payne.

As I look out from my ‘working from home’ office window, towards some magnificent tall, old oak trees blowing in the wind and rain of a typical northern England summer’s day, I am struck by their resilience and flexibility. These are potentially contradictory concepts that resonate with my perspectives on multidisciplinary working, as I will try to explain here. But let me start by expressing my sincere thanks to the European Association for Palliative Care and the Cicely Saunders Institute for selecting me to receive the Cicely Saunders Award. It is indeed a great honour and I look forward to joining the EAPC’s exciting Online World Research Congress on Friday 9 October.

Multidisciplinary team working is generally regarded uncritically as a good thing and there are strong recommendations for its use in clinical contexts (Radbruch and Payne 2009; 2010). For example, multidisciplinary teams bring the benefits of a range of expertise, skills and experience to deal with complex clinical challenges. Within palliative care research teams, it is essential to build teams in which complementary but different disciplines work together such as academics, clinicians, methodologists, technicians, policy-makers and, most importantly, patients and families. These make for strong and resilient teams who can tackle complex research questions.

However, explicit or hidden challenges may threaten the successful working of multidisciplinary teams. I am mindful that assumptions that underpin certain ways of working may privilege certain values, types of knowledge, or expertise. This may play out in taken-for-granted hierarchies of leadership or knowledge structures, with a lack of respect for diversity, especially the concrete lived experience of patients and families. This may impact upon opportunities for personal development of team members or a lack of cohesion, ultimately resulting in burnout and disillusionment amongst team members.

Flexibility in multidisciplinary team working is key

A recent study from the USA has demonstrated that using resilience theory, where attention was placed on both individual needs and those of the team as a whole, contributed to a more sustainable team where there was greater respect for personal and professional support needs (Rosenberg et al 2020). They reported that changes to their leadership approach resulted in a shared mission and better psychological support for team members. This study shows that flexibility in adapting to multidisciplinary team working in the context of palliative care research was achievable and reported to be beneficial.

Resilience and flexibility: old oak trees blowing in the wind and rain of a typical northern England summer’s day.

In my view, multidisciplinary teams need to be flexible enough to manage inevitable changes (and there have been so many in this year of the pandemic), but resilient enough to stay strong – keeping true to their goals and values.  These will be some of the issues that I will be exploring during my presentation and I hope that you can also join me for the question and answer session. I look forward to hearing about your experiences of multidisciplinary teams too.

Please email me your comments and questions before the Congress, or use the chat facility on the day to ask questions.

By October, my oak trees will be bronzed and beautiful with autumn leaf colours but probably still blowing in the wind and rain.

Join Professor Sheila Payne for her plenary presentation and live panel discussion at 09.00 am CET on 9 October. And do email any comments or questions ahead of the Congress. View and download the full interactive programme and keep up to date at   All registered delegates will receive a unique login to access the congress platform on the day we go live on 21 September – so keep an eye on your inbox!

Professor Payne’s lecture, ‘Multidisciplinary working in palliative care: Challenges and achievements in the past decades’ will also be recorded and released for on-demand viewing by registered delegates until January 2021. Read the abstract of her lecture, and all other congress presentations and posters, in the Book of Abstracts for the 11thEAPC World Research Congress, to be published by ‘Palliative Medicine’ – available online from 21 September until January 2021.


Radbruch, L. and Payne, S. (2009) White Paper on standards and norms for hospice and palliative care in Europe: part 1. European Journal of Palliative Care, 16 (6), 278-289. (Download from EAPC website – requires members to login).

Radbruch, L. and Payne, S. (2010). White Paper on standards and norms for hospice and palliative care in Europe: part 2. European Journal of Palliative Care, 17 (1), 22-33. (Download from the archive of the European Journal of Palliative Care login or register and choose January/February 2010 issue)

Rosenburg, AR, Barton K, Junkins C, Scott S, Bradford M, Steineck A, Lau N, Comiskey L, Yi-Frazier J. Creating a resilient research program – lessons learned from a palliative care research lab. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management


JOIN PALLIATIVE CARE SPECIALISTS FROM ACROSS THE WORLD AT #EAPC2020 –11th EAPC WORLD RESEARCH CONGRESS ONLINE 2020 – Interactive online sessions 7 to 9 October 2020 with on-demand content available from 21 September.

Be a part of the first-ever EAPC World Research Congress Online. Learn and interact with leading researchers and chat with other registered delegates from the global palliative care community – all in the safety of your own home or office. CME accreditation available. Find out more and view/download the full programme here. Register here. Meet some of our plenary speakers on the EAPC YouTube channel.

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