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Why is the Liverpool care pathway used for some dying cancer patients and not others? Healthcare professionals’ perspectives

Alison Freemantle1 and Jane Seymour2*

Author Affiliations

1 Hayward House, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Hucknall Road, Nottingham, NG5 1 PB, UK

2 Sue Ryder Care Centre for the Study of Supportive, Palliative and End of Life Care, University of Nottingham, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, Queen’s Medical Centre, Derby Road, Nottingham NG7 2HA, UK

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:524  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-524

Published: 24 September 2012



Despite evidence suggesting that the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient is a structured and proficient means of supporting care delivery in the last hours or days of life, discrepancies in uptake are widespread. This exploratory study sought to understand why patients dying of cancer in oncology wards of one hospital trust were, or were not, supported by the LCP. A purposive qualitative case study design was used; each case represented a patient who had died and their most involved nurse and doctor. In-depth interviews explored both recollections of the ‘case’ and wider experiences of using the Pathway in end-of-life care. Eleven healthcare professionals were interviewed about their involvement in the end-of-life care of six patients. For four of these patients care was supported by the LCP.


Although doctors and nurses reported they preferred to use the Pathway to ensure comfortable death, an important factor influencing their decisions was time of death. Access to timely senior review was regarded as an essential preliminary to placing patients on the Pathway but delayed access ‘out of hours’ was commonly experienced and tensions arose from balancing conflicting priorities. Consequently, the needs of dying patients sometimes failed to compete with those receiving curative treatment.


This study suggests that greater attention should be focused on ‘out of hours’ care in hospitals to ensure regular senior review of all patients at risk of dying and to support front line staff to communicate effectively and make contingency plans focused on patients’ best interests.

Liverpool care pathway; End-of-life care; Hospital; Qualitative research; Cancer; Healthcare professionals