Of those questioned in a survey by The King's Fund, 63 per cent of GPs believe that their personal attitudes towards death will inevitably affect the advice they give patients about end-of-life treatment, with almost half admitting they would welcome some support to improve their ability to talk to patients about death and dying.
These results are unexpected – especially as 76 per cent of GPs saw end-of-life care as an integral part of their job – and patients might find it surprising to learn that even their doctors are reluctant to talk about these issues.
Our research on end-of-life care has shown that avoiding such conversations with patients may impact on whether GPs refer patients to other services in the community, services that would support them and their carers in their homes and avoid unnecessary hospital admissions. Our research also shows it's important that GPs and other health care providers feel comfortable and confident talking to patients about such preferences to ensure high-quality care.
This week we are hosting a national summit to open up discussion on the subject. We're looking forward to meeting with a range of influential stakeholders, communicating openly about some of these challenges and working together to overcome them.
If health professionals are reluctant to communicate about their own end-of-life care preferences – not just those of their patients – then enabling them to have clear and informed discussions on death and dying will be a major step on the road to improving end-of-life care in England.