By Nigel Praities
A top Government adviser has backed the right of GPs to provide spiritual support to patients at the end of their lives, a week after a Christian GP was issued with a controversial GMC warning for discussing religion in a consultation.
Professor Mike Richards, national clinical director for cancer and end-of-life care, made the comments at a press conference yesterday to launch a new end-of-life patient charter drawn up by the RCGP and the Royal College of Nursing.
The patient charter specifically recommends that practices provide as much 'emotional and spiritual support' as patients need at the end of their lives.
It also states that practices should help patients to record their wishes for their final days, and talk with them about their future needs.
The charter comes a week after Christian GP Dr Richard Scott refused to accept a warning from the GMC, even though he now risks further investigation, after the relative of patient who he offered spiritual guidance complained.
Professor Richards said it was important that patients at the end of their lives should be offered spiritual support from GPs if they wanted it.
'It is important, but it should not be forced on anyone. It is of importance to patients, and if it is, then we should be able to meet that need.'
Professor Richards said that studies in other countries, such as Canada, had shown that spiritual assistance – such as that provided by hospital chaplains – was very valuable.
RCGP clinical champion for end-of-life care Professor Keri Thomas backed Dr Scott's stance, and said that spiritual care was 'essential' for end-of-life care.
'All GPs would agree that care of the inner person is important, no matter how people might encase it in a religious way, or a non-religious way.'
'Actually that is one of the every special things about the doctor-patient relationship, that you can get so close to someone that you can recognise and affirm it, and their quality of life remains good right until the end.'
The end-of-life care patient charter will be sent to 8,500 GP practices across England, along with a guidance document.