01/03/2013 02:14 GMT

Doctors Would Prefer 'Starvation' Death Care Pathway, If Terminally Ill, Study Shows

Nine in 10 doctors claim they would be happy to effectively starve to death under a controversial end-of-life regime, if they were terminally ill.

90% of doctors said they would want to be placed on the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) if they were nearing death.

The LCP - which recommends that in some circumstances doctors withdraw treatment, food and water from sedated patients in their final days - has come under intense scrutiny recently.

end of life care

Doctors have said they would prefer the controversial Liverpool Care Pathway

Reports suggest that doctors are establishing "death lists" of patients to be put on the pathway.

Articles also claim hospitals might be employing the method to cut costs and save bed spaces.

But medics have argued that the pathway has "transformed" end-of-life care, saying it can offer peaceful, pain-free deaths when used properly.

The latest survey, conducted on 563 doctors by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and Channel 4's Dispatches programme, found that 98% of medics did not think that pressure on beds or other resources had influenced decisions to use the pathway.

But three-quarters of the clinicians questioned did claim that negative press coverage of the regime had led to it being used less frequently.

Doctors told the BMJ that criticism and apprehension towards the LCP was "putting end of life care back about 20 years".

An overwhelming majority of those questioned said that the method, when used properly, allowed patients to die with dignity, with only two respondents disagreeing.

The pathway was introduced with the aim of helping doctors and nurses provide quality care for patients during their final hours and days of life.

But following criticism of the regime, health officials recently commissioned a review into the use of the LCP at hospitals and care homes.

The review, chaired by crossbench peer Baroness Julia Neuberger, will hear evidence from patients, families and health professionals before reporting to ministers and the NHS Commissioning Board this summer.

Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the BMJ, said: "This survey gives overwhelming support for the LCP from doctors who have experience in using the pathway when caring for patients in the last few days of life.

"The fact that most of these doctors said they would choose the LCP for themselves is doubly reassuring.

"The recent adverse media coverage of the LCP has been misleading and has damaged patient care.

"I hope this survey goes some way to restoring public confidence in the LCP as a reasonable and compassionate choice for patients and their families when making decisions about end of life care."

  • The results of the survey will be aired on Channel 4's Dispatches on Monday March 4.