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Greater GP role in end of life care

By Nigel Praities

GPs will be encouraged to initiate discussions about end of life care with patients and their families under a government strategy released today.

Over half of deaths occur in NHS hospitals, but this £286m strategy aims to make it easier for all patients to plan the care they want to receive as they approach the end of their life and where they want to spend their last days.

It says GPs have a ‘pivotal role' in providing end of life care and were often the best placed to initiate discussions about this.

‘In many cases, the GP will be the appropriate person, as he/she is likely to have known the patient for years and be aware of their medical history and social circumstances,' the strategy reads.

Launching the strategy, Ivan Lewis, Minister for Care Services, said the strategy would make patients more aware that they had a choice over what services they use and where they die.

‘People are often worried about continuity of care, having a 24 hour service and what happens if their relative deteriorates. This strategy will build capacity in the system to make choice a reality,' he said.

Professor Mike Richards, National Clinical Director for Cancer, said the taboo over discussing death must be overcome and PCTs would be required to provide training for doctors in discussing end of life care issues under the strategy.

‘There has to be a change of culture among healthcare and social care professionals, and there is a need to provide education and training for the communication skills needed, because as doctors we are not trained in this area,' he said.

The strategy also includes plans for the roll-out of 24-hour rapid response community nursing services across England and widening access to electronic care records to ensure good out of hours care for those nearing the end of their lives.

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