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Out-of-hours primary care end of life prescribing: a data linkage study


Objectives Out-of-hours (OOH) primary care services are contacted in the last 4 weeks of life by nearly 30% of all patients who die, but OOH palliative prescribing remains poorly understood. Our understanding of prescribing demand has previously been limited by difficulties identifying palliative patients seen OOH. This study examines the volume and type of prescriptions issued by OOH services at the end of life.

Methods A retrospective cohort study was performed by linking a database of Oxfordshire OOH service contacts over a year with national mortality data, identifying patients who died within 30 days of OOH contact. Demographic, service and prescribing data were analysed.

Results A prescription is issued at 14.2% of contacts in the 30 days prior to death, compared with 29.9% of other contacts. The most common prescriptions were antibiotics (22.2%) and strong opioids (19%). 41.8% of prescriptions are for subcutaneously administered medication. Patients who were prescribed a syringe driver medication made twice as many OOH contacts in the 30 days prior to death compared with those who were not.

Conclusion Absolute and relative prescribing rates are low in the 30 days prior to death. Further research is required to understand what occurs at these non-prescribing end of life contacts to inform how OOH provision can best meet the needs of dying patients. Overall, relatively few patients are prescribed strong opioids or syringe drivers. When a syringe driver medication is prescribed this may help identify patients likely to be in need of further support from the service.

  • drug administration
  • home care
  • service evaluation
  • end of life care
  • supportive care
  • terminal care

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