Process to hasten death of terminally ill backed by GPs

Jean Tulloch
Jean Tulloch
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Leading GPs have sprung to the defence of a controversial NHS process said to hasten the death of terminally ill patients.

The Liverpool Care Pathway is a set of guidelines designed to ensure no unnecessary treatment or tests are carried out on a patient in their final days or hours of life. It can also involve the withdrawal of feeding and hydration.

Earlier this month, the Evening News revealed police were ready to investigate a son’s claims that doctors at the Western General Hospital attempted to “kill off” his elderly mother by withdrawing a feeding tube.

Peter Tulloch said he believed medical staff had attempted to speed up his mother’s death to free up beds.

He alleged that on a surprise visit to his 83-year-old mother Jean at the hospital, where she had been admitted with a urinary tract infection, he found the intravenous drip which provided her nutrition had been removed and he learned she had been placed on the controversial care pathway. She was taken off it, but died two weeks later.

Now, prominent Scottish GPs have defended the pathway and accused critics of scaremongering,

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Glasgow-based Dr Margaret McCartney said: “Criticising current procedures and practices can be useful. But doing so in a way that scaremongers and alleges that doctors are parties to ‘killings’ is reprehensible and unfair to a highly vulnerable group of people and their families.”

In the same journal, fellow GP Des Spence, also from Glasgow, wrote: “The Liverpool Care Pathway and committed district nursing teams are transforming care. We talk about death in an open way and decide where patients die.

“Used properly, with senior supervision, the pathway offers structure to a peaceful pain-free, dignified death at home – a good death.”

The UK Government has launched a review of the pathway following recent criticisms of the process.