Supporting the bereaved in general practice
How do GPs help bereaved families?
Changes in society mean that more people are socially isolated. This could result in more patients turning to their GPs for support when they are bereaved.
The Institute of Public Health in Cambridge, England, has carried out a systematic review of studies of bereavement in primary care. It only considered studies of adults grieving for other adults.
The reviewers included 11 studies of general practice, two of community nurses and one study of GPs and nurses.
Both GPs and nurses consider bereavement care is a satisfying part of their roles. Despite this, they often give it a low priority.
They felt that it was a professional duty to make contact with people who had recently been bereaved.
There were, however, concerns that this could medicalise grief or make the GP feel guilty about the patient’s death.
Making contact with bereaved people was easier if the GP already knew them. Some nurses thought it was inappropriate for them to visit bereaved people they had not previously met.
One English study found 39% of general practices routinely contact bereaved people. The GPs usually visit them at home, but also make contact by telephone or letter.
The review reported a lack of training for GPs and nurses in bereavement care. There was also a lack of clarity on what is best practice.
Some studies recorded the views of the bereaved. In one study most people did not want bereavement counselling and 20% did not want to speak to a GP.
Dr John Dowden, Canberra
Nagraj S, Barclay S. Bereavement care in primary care. Br J Gen Pract 2011; e42-8
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