Timing of GP end-of-life recognition in people aged ≥75 years: retrospective cohort study using data from primary healthcare records in England
Daniel Stow, Fiona E Matthews and Barbara Hanratty
Background: High-quality, personalised palliative care should be available to all, but timely recognition of end of life may be a barrier to end-of-life care for older people. Aim: To investigate the timing of end-of-life recognition, palliative registration, and the recording of end-of-life preferences in primary care for people aged ≥75 years. Design and setting: Retrospective cohort study using national primary care record data, covering 34% of GP practices in England. Method: ResearchOne data from electronic healthcare records (EHRs) of people aged ≥75 years who died in England between 1 January 2015 and 1 January 2016 were examined. Clinical codes relating to end-of-life recognition, palliative registration, and end-of-life preferences were extracted, and the number of months that elapsed between the code being entered and death taking place were calculated. The timing for each outcome and proportion of relevant EHRs were reported. Results: Death was recorded for a total of 13 149 people in ResearchOne data during the 1-year study window. Of those, 6303 (47.9%) records contained codes suggesting end of life had been recognised at a point in time prior to the month of death. Recognition occurred ≥12 months before death in 2248 (17.1%) records. In total, 1659 (12.6%) people were on the palliative care register and 457 (3.5%) were on the register for ≥12 months before death; 2987 (22.7%) records had a code for the patient’s preferred place of care, and 1713 (13.0%) had a code for the preferred place of death. Where preferences for place of death were recorded, a care, nursing, or residential home (n = 813, 47.5%) and the individual’s home (n = 752, 43.9%) were the most common. Conclusion: End-of-life recognition in primary care appears to occur near to death and for only a minority of people aged ≥75 years. The findings suggest that older people’s deaths may not be anticipated by health professionals, compromising equitable access to palliative care.