Third of GPs failing to talk about dying patients' last wishes

By
Jenny Hope

PUBLISHED:

00:58 GMT, 14 May 2012

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UPDATED:

00:58 GMT, 14 May 2012

A third of family doctors fail to talk to dying patients about their wishes, says a study.

On average 20 of a GP’s patients will die each year but many doctors are ignoring national guidelines in establishing their end of life preferences, for example whether they want to die at home or in hospital.

Three quarters of the public and GPs believe Britons are still uncomfortable talking about death, according to research released by the Dying Matters Coalition, representing charities, care homes, hospices and other organisations.

Doctor comforting patient.

Hard questions: Doctors are failing in their responsibility, set down in national guidelines, to ask terminally ill patents' end-of- life preferences, such as dying at home or in hospital.

It found the taboo is preventing people from making end of life plans and leaving a mess for those close to them.

Only a third of people have made a will and fewer than one in ten have written down their wishes in case they become incapable of making their own decisions, says the ComRes study of 2,000 adults and 1,000 GPs.

Studies show many miss out on having 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.

Guidance issued last year encouraged doctors to speak to patients they identify as needing end of life care to offer assessment and individual support plans.

This includes attitudes towards organ and tissue donation. Eve Richardson, chief executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care, said: ‘Every minute someone in England dies, but many people including GPs still feel uncomfortable discussing end of life issues.

Patient undergoing tomography.

Further heartache: Only a third of people have made a will, leaving headaches behind for bereaved families

‘Talking about dying is in everyone’s interests. That’s why 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.’

Professor Mayur Lakhani, a GP who is chairman of the Dying Matters Coalition, said: ‘Although there are encouraging signs that attitudes are changing for the better most people still have not discussed their end of life wishes with anyone.

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By raising the issue of end of life care earlier with people who have advancing disease, doctors can play a key role in ensuring people get the type of end of life care and support they need and want.’

The study found GPs were little better than non-medics in tackling end of life issues.

Just half have written a will and almost as many have not registered to become an organ donor or do not have a donor card.

Only seven per cent of GPs have written down their end of life care wishes or preferences, compared with eight per cent of the public.