Charity calls for improved GP training to boost palliative care

GPs 'have a vital role to play' in improving palliative care, but they must receive more training to ensure patients with terminal conditions receive the care and support they need, charity Marie Curie has warned.

Palliative care: GP training proposal (Photo: Paul Starr)
Palliative care: GP training proposal (Photo: Paul Starr)

The charity’s Triggers for Palliative Care report – backed by the RCGP – highlights the different signs doctors should look out for to help identify when a patient requires palliative care.

Many clinicians do not receive enough training, leading them ‘to often miss the opportunity to consider whether there is a palliative care need’, the report says.

It found that patients with heart failure, COPD, dementia, end stage liver disease, Parkinson’s disease and others are less likely to receive palliative care than those with terminal cancer.

Progression of these diseases tends to be more unpredictable than that of cancer, which has a recognisable decline, and the report calls for clinicians to be made more aware of the signs.

GP role in palliative care

In a joint statement in the report’s foreword, leading health organisations – including the RCGP, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Nursing and Association for Palliative Medicine –pledged to play a greater role in improving support for terminal patients.

‘We recognise that much remains to be done to ensure that everyone who could benefit from palliative care gets it,’ they wrote, in a co-signed statement.

Dr Jane Collins, chief executive of Marie Curie, said: ‘Each year around 110,000 people in the UK don’t get the palliative care that they need.

Start palliative care earlier

‘Many people who could benefit from palliative care earlier in their illness miss out because doctors, patients and their families do not realise when it is needed and incorrectly assume it is only for people who are in the final weeks or days of their lives.’

A survey commissioned by the charity found that two in five (39%) of 500 clinical professionals in the UK thought that a lack of relevant experience was ‘a barrier to meeting the needs of terminally ill people’.

Dr Catherine Millington-Sanders, clinical lead for end of life care at the RCGP and Marie Curie, said: ‘GPs have a vital role in caring for patients in the last days, months and years of their lives – and this report shows that the more support family doctors have in delivering palliative care, the greater the benefits are for our patients.’

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