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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

General practitioners' use and experiences of palliative care services: a survey in south east England

Sabrina Bajwah1* and Irene J Higginson2

Author Affiliations

1 Trinity Hospice, 30 Clapham Common North Side, Clapham, SW4 ORN, London, UK

2 Department of Palliative Care and Policy, King's College, London, UK

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BMC Palliative Care 2008, 7:18  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-7-18

Published: 5 November 2008



The role of the General Practitioner (GP) is central to community palliative care. Good liaison between the different professionals involved in a patient's care is extremely important in palliative care patients. In cases where GPs have previously been dissatisfied with palliative services, this may be seen as a barrier to referral when caring for other patients. The aim of this survey is to investigate the use and previous experiences of GPs of two palliative care services, with particular emphasis on barriers to referral and to explore issues surrounding the GP's role in caring for palliative patients.


Design: Descriptive postal survey of use and experience of palliative care services with particular emphasis on barriers to referral. Setting: One Primary Care Trust (PCT), south London, England, population 298,500. Subjects: 180 GPs in the PCT, which is served by two hospice services (A&B).


An overall questionnaire response rate of 77% (138) was obtained, with 69% (124) used in analysis. Over 90% of GPs were satisfied with the palliative care services over the preceding two years. Two areas of possible improvement emerged; communication and prescribing practices. GPs identified some patients that they had not referred, most commonly when patients or carers were reluctant to accept help, or when other support was deemed sufficient. Over half of the GPs felt there were areas where improvement could be made; with clarification of the rules and responsibilities of the multi disciplinary team being the most common. The majority of GPs were working, and want to work with, the specialist services as part of an extended team. However, a greater number of GPs want to hand over care to the specialist services than are currently doing so.


A large number of GPs were happy with the service provision of the palliative care services in this area. They suggested that 3 out of 4 terminally ill patients needed specialist input. Views of services were largely positive, and reasons for non referral were unrelated to previous experience of the specialist services.