GPs should help patients plan end-of-life care

  • Date: 21 May 2012

MORE than a third of GPs have never spoken to a patient about end-of-life care, according to new research.

Despite the fact that, on average, 20 of a GP’s patients will die each year, 35 per cent of practitioners have not initiated a discussion about their end-of-life wishes.

Researchers commissioned by the Dying Matters Coalition spoke to 1,000 GPs and found that female GPs and the recently qualified were more likely to raise the issue with patients.

Figures showed 71 per cent of female doctors had initiated a discussion with a patient compared to only 60 per cent of male doctors.

Meanwhile, 71 per cent of GPs who qualified between 2000 and 2010 had initiated discussions, compared to 64 per cent of those who qualified between 1990 and 1999, and 63 per cent of those who qualified in the previous two decades. Doctors aged under 30 were more likely to have spoken to patients about the issue (69 per cent) than those aged over 60 (42 per cent).

The report also found many GPs had done little to arrange their own end-of-life care. Only 33 per cent had asked a family member about their end of life wishes while 35 per cent had talked to someone about their own wishes. Just 56 per cent of GPs have written a will, almost half (48 per cent) have not registered to become an organ donor or do not have a donor card, and only seven per cent have written down their end-of-life care wishes or preferences.

Overall, 79 per cent of GPs said people in Britain are uncomfortable talking about dying. Of the 2,028 adults questioned, 22 per cent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing their end of life wishes with their GP.

Studies show that many people are currently missing out on getting their end of life wishes met. Although 70 per cent of people in England would prefer to die at home, more than half of deaths take place in hospital.

Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care, said many people, including GPs still feel uncomfortable discussing end-of-life issues, adding: “We want as many people as possible to discuss their end-of-life wishes and to take small actions such as registering to become an organ donor, writing a will or making an effort to speak to anyone they know who is nearing their end of their life or who has been bereaved.”

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