Dying remains a taboo subject for patients and GPs, finds survey

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 14 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3356
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

Many GPs are failing to discuss dying and end of life wishes with patients, according to a survey commissioned by the Dying Matters Coalition, a group led by the National Council for Palliative Care.

The online survey of 2028 adults and 1000 GPs found that discussing dying and end of life plans remains a taboo for most people in Britain. The survey, carried out by the polling agency ComRes, found that only 27% of the public have asked a family member about their end of life wishes and less than a third (31%) have talked to someone about their own wishes. Just 37% of the public have written a will, 31% have registered to become an organ donor, and only 8% have written down their end of life wishes.

The survey also found that a third (35%) of GPs have not initiated a discussion with a patient about their end of life wishes or talked to a family member about end of life wishes (33%). The survey found that just 56% of GPs have written a will themselves and only 7% have written down their own end of life care preferences.

The coalition says that many people currently miss out on getting their end of life wishes met. Although 70% of people in England would prefer to die at home, more than half of deaths take place in hospital.

The survey found that 71% of the public and 79% of GPs agree that people in Britain are uncomfortable discussing dying, death, and bereavement. Most people surveyed could see the benefits of more open discussion about dying.

Mayur Lakhani, a Loughborough GP and chair of the Dying Matters Coalition, said: “Until we have a more open approach to discussing dying we risk continuing to see people die without their wishes being met. By raising the issue of end of life care earlier with people who have advancing disease, doctors can also play a key role in ensuring people get the type of end of life care and support they need and want.”

Eve Richardson, chief executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care, commented: “Every minute someone in England dies, but many people including GPs still feel uncomfortable discussing end of life issues. Talking about dying is in everyone’s interests. That’s why we want as many people as possible to discuss their end of life wishes and to take small actions such as registering to become an organ donor, writing a will, or making an effort to speak to anyone they know who is nearing the end of their life or who has been bereaved.”

The Dying Matters Coalition, whose members include charities, care homes, hospices, GPs, funeral directors, and legal and financial organisations, is running an awareness week from 14 to 20 May. More information is at


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3356