Special not different: general practitioners' accounts of their care of dying people

Soc Sci Med. 1998 May;46(9):1111-20. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(97)10041-7.


In modern Britain the majority of terminal care occurs in people's own homes and many dying people and their carers would prefer the death itself to occur in the home. The quality of terminal care in the home and the possibility of a home death depend to a great extent upon the care provided by GPs and community nurses. This paper reports on GPs' experiences of caring for dying people and their attitudes towards such work. It is based on unstructured interviews with 25 GPs who graduated from the 1979 entry cohort to the University of Leicester medical school. The respondents were recruited via a questionnaire following up previous research with this cohort on 'fear of death'. Although self-selecting, interviewees were not significantly different from those who did not volunteer for interview in any of the statistical analyses of the questionnaire data. There were a number of similarities in their accounts of their care of dying people. Common themes were that the care of dying people was important, rewarding and satisfying; that the GPs saw themselves as part of a team of carers, frequently as team co-ordinators; good working relationships with district nurses but less satisfactory relationships with hospitals and social workers; that patient and family were both recipients of care; and honesty in communication with dying people, albeit tempered. Three issues of contemporary relevance were: tensions over the role of hospice and specialist terminal care services; care of people with chronic terminal illnesses other than cancer; and the role of GPs in the social construction of bereavement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Bereavement
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Palliative Care
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • United Kingdom