Out-of-hours palliative care: what are the educational needs and preferences of general practitioners?

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Offering genuine choice to patients over place of care and death requires the provision of high-quality palliative care 24/7. This study examines the confidence of out-of-hours general practitioners (GPs) in symptom control and end of life prescribing, and identifies their educational needs and preferences in order to inform recommendations for future education.


A self-completion postal survey was designed and sent to 1005 GPs working for an independent provider of out-of-hours services across England. Quantitative data were analysed using descriptive statistics and non-parametric tests.


203 (20.3%) GPs completed the survey questionnaire; 13.3% (n=27) worked exclusively out-of-hours. Confidence in assessing palliative care emergencies (42.8%, n=87: ‘not so confident’ or ‘not at all confident’), managing symptoms in non-cancer patients (39.4%, n=80) and prescribing a new syringe driver (39.0%, n=79) was lowest. Lower confidence was associated with infrequent exposure to palliative patients (p<0.05) and lack of training in palliative care (p<0.05); 12.8% (n=26) had never received formal training. Educational preferences were closely associated with confidence (p<0.0005); the topics above were most requested. E-learning was the preferred method (67.5%, n=137). 82.1% (n=165) believed training focused on out-of-hours work would be beneficial.


We identify that confidence in key palliative care competences is severely lacking. Educational strategies to address this concern must be targeted at GPs preferences for content and mode of delivery. Regular e-learning is favoured, but should be blended with other approaches that promote engagement including out-of-hours themed workshops and case discussion. Specialist palliative care services should engage with out-of-hours providers to support education.

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