General practitioners (GPs) deliver the majority of palliative care to patients in the last year of life. This article seeks to examine the nature of GP care, perceptions of the GPs themselves and others of that care, the adequacy of palliative care training, issues relating to accessibility of GPs to palliative care patients, and strategies that may be of use in encouraging more effective delivery of palliative care by GPs. Medline and PubMed databases from 1966 to 2000 were searched, and 135 references identified. Sixty-six of these described studies relevant to GP palliative care. GPs value this part of their work. Most of the time, patients appreciate the contribution the GP makes to palliative care particularly if the GP is accessible, takes time to listen, allows patient and carer to ventilate their feelings, and is seen to be making efforts made regarding symptom relief. However, reports from bereaved relatives suggest that palliative care is performed less well in the community than in other settings. GPs express discomfort about their competence to perform palliative care adequately. They tend to miss symptoms which are not treatable by them, or which are less common. However, with appropriate specialist support and facilities, GPs have been shown to deliver sound and effective care. GP comfort working with specialist teams increases with exposure to this form of patient management, as does the understanding of the potential other team members have in contributing to the care of the patient. Formal arrangements engaging GPs to work with specialist teams have been shown to improve functional outcomes, patient satisfaction, improve effective use of resources and improve effective physician behaviour in other areas of medicine. Efforts by specialist services to develop formal involvement of GPs in the care of individual patients, may be an effective method of improving GP palliative care skills and appreciation of the roles specialist services can play.