How can GPs provide the best possible care at the end of someone’s life?

Preparing for the end of life

This week, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) published a position statement on palliative and end of life care. Simon Jones, Marie Curie’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs, explains what it covers and why it’s a great step forward for people living with a terminal illness who want to be cared for in their community. 

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that palliative and end of life care is something we should leave to specialists, or that it’s only for people with specific illnesses. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. 

Here at Marie Curie, we’ve done a lot of work on the role palliative care can play for people with lots of different terminal conditions. We believe that ‘generalists’, like our local GPs, are at the heart of providing the care that people living with a terminal illness need and deserve.

That’s because GPs are people we know and trust, who can play a key role in coordinating the services needed to keep people at home, if that’s the place where they want to be cared for.

Working together to provide high-quality care

Marie Curie has been working in partnership with the RCGP – the membership body for the GPs in the UK – for the past three years. We’ve helped them produce their new position statement on palliative and end of life care.

The statement provides clear written guidance for all GPs on how they should look after people living with a terminal illness. It means that, no matter where you are in the UK, your GP should be caring for you in a way that’s consistent and focused on your needs.

Giving GPs the tools they need

The main thrust of the statement is on treating everyone living with a terminal illness as an individual.

There are also pledges to support GPs at all levels of their careers to get the training they need to care for people at the end of their lives, and to make sure vulnerable groups, like homeless people and offenders, aren’t missing out when it comes to care at the end of their lives.

‘One of the most rewarding aspects of my work’

The vast majority of GPs take their role in providing the best possible care to people living with a terminal illness very seriously, which is why it’s great that the RCGP have this position statement to guide members old and new.

“As a practicing GP in Surrey, caring for people with a terminal illness, and those important to them, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work,” says Catherine Millington Saunders. “Compassion is a key component of delivering good care, and having time to do that is paramount.”

Time to care

The work GPs like Catherine do in supporting people at the end of their lives is going to become even more important. In the future, more and more of us are likely to have more than one complex condition when we reach the end of our lives.

If we’re going to get the care we need in the place where we want it, which is overwhelmingly in our own communities, GPs will be playing a central role.