End-of-life patient charter is unveiled

Doctors and nurses are pledging to make sure the final wishes of dying patients are carried out.

More than 8,000 GP surgeries in England will be asked to display a new patient charter on end of life care.

The document contains seven "pledges" to make the last few weeks and days of a person's life as comfortable as possible.

It 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.

The pledges include GPs and their practice teams promising to: "Help you think ahead so as to identify the choices that you may face, assist you to record your decisions and do our best to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled, wherever possible, by all those who offer you care and support."

Another pledge promises to: "Ensure clear written communication of your needs and wishes to those who offer you care and support."

They will also promise to do "their utmost" to ensure the patient's remaining days are comfortable, and that they get all the specialist care and emotional and spiritual support they need.

Patients are invited to comment on the charter and offer suggestions for improving it.

It was formulated with the help of patients, nurses, GPs, specialists and representatives from health and social care.

A copy of the charter will be sent to 8,500 GP Practices across England to be displayed in waiting rooms.

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.

"We hope the charter will be an invaluable means of encouraging and supporting best care for our patients nearing the end of life."

Professor Mike Richards, NHS clinical director for end of life care, said: "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."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "GPs and nurses have a vital role in providing high quality, compassionate end-of-life care, and that is why we welcome this End of Life Patient Charter.

"Progress is being made in improving end-of-life care, but we know more needs to be done and that is why we are modernising the NHS to improve training and ensure best practice is embedded across the NHS.

"We are committed to improving the quality of end-of-life care and we will continue to promote the implementation of the End of Life Care Strategy."

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