End-of-life patient charter unveiled

1 June 2011
Doctors and nurses are pledging to make sure the final wishes of dying patients are carried out. More than 8000 GP surgeries in England will be asked to display a new seven-point patient charter on end of life care.

The pledges in the charter are designed to ensure the NHS makes the final days of a person’s life as comfortable as possible.

GPs will promise to help preserve 'independence, dignity and sense of personal control' throughout the course of a patient's illness.

Very ill patients will be asked to tell doctors – preferably in writing – whether they want to be resuscitated and how they want to be treated in their final days.

The information could be kept on a central NHS database so all staff know how to deal with patients if, for example, they take a turn for the worse and are rushed to hospital.

The charter has been created by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as an example of the "best practice" all patients deserve from nurses and GPs in primary care. It was formulated with the help of patients, nurses, GPs, specialists and representatives from health and social care organisations

Patients are invited to comment on the charter and offer suggestions for improving it. A copy will be sent to all 8,500 GP practices in England to be displayed in waiting rooms.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, of the National Council for Palliative Care said: "We need to do more to meet people's wishes and needs at the end of life. Someone dies in Britain every minute."

"By implementing [the charter] we can all make 'living and dying well' the norm."

Professor Keri Thomas, RCGP clinical champion for end of life care, said: "GPs and their teams have a special relationship not just with their patients but with the people close to them, all of whom need special care and support through the process of dying. We have the ability to co-ordinate good care and to help reduce some of the worry and stress when a loved one is approaching the end of their life." 

Professor Mike Richards, NHS clinical director for end of life care, commented: "GPs are often best placed to identify people who are approaching the end of life and to initiate discussions with them about their priorities and preferences for care.

"They have a central role in the provision of end of life care."

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN, said: "The RCN has worked hard alongside the RCGP to build this charter, and we hope that it will assist people at the end of their lives including those who die at home - if that is what they and their carers want.

"This charter clearly describes what patients and carers should expect as people are nearing the end of their life, as well as providing a framework for the staff providing that care.

"There is no doubt that the provision of end of life services have been significantly improved in recent years, however there is still a long way to go before we can be confident that people always receive the best possible care."

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