Researchers have been looking at how Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust’s out-of-hours GP services are being used to support patients dying at home.

The Trust provides out-of-hours GP services in Oxfordshire, and Oxford University researchers Drs Rebecca Fisher, Daniel Lasserson and Gail Hayward found that over four years, 1 in every 100 contacts for the GP out-of-hour service was for palliative – end-of-life – care.

Dr Fisher, an academic clinical fellow at Oxford Health as well as an Oxford University researcher, said: ‘Out-of-hours services cover more than two-thirds of the hours in a year (from 6.30pm to 8am daily and 24/7 at weekends and bank holidays). Despite this, until now, no one had looked at how patients with palliative care needs use out-of-hours services.’ Dr Fisher has collaborated with Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust on a series of studies analysing use of the Oxfordshire out-of-hours service.

The team say that their research raises many questions, and that more research is urgently needed. Dr Gail Hayward, a practicing GP and researcher at Oxford University said: ‘We now know that lots of people are using out of hours GP services for end of life care. We need to carefully consider how we can best design services to meet the needs of this patient group.’

Between June 2010 and August 2014, Oxford Health’s Oxfordshire’s out-of-hours GP service had 511,503 patient contacts. 14,572 had to be excluded from the analysis in the study. Of the 496,931 contacts analysed, 6045 (1.2%) were coded as palliative care, caring for 3760 people. Applied to the 5.8 million patient contacts across England, this equates to 69,600 palliative care patient contacts for around 43,291 patients.