Prominent Scottish GPs have launched a passionate defence of a controversial NHS process in which terminally ill patients are helped in their final hours.

The plan, which can see the withdrawal of feeding and hydration, or some medication and tests ceased where a patient is close to death, is at the centre of a row over patient care.

Lothian and Borders Police have been urged by the son of one elderly patient who died to investigate the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP).

Jean Tulloch, 83, died in Edinburgh's Western General Hospital, two weeks after being put on the plan and subsequently removed from it in March.

It has been claimed the scheme can hasten the passing of those who are close to death, in order to free up beds, or even to speed the departure of difficult patients.

But in an outspoken attack on its critics, Glasgow-based Dr Margaret McCartney said the LCP has suffered an "onslaught of scaremongering."

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Dr 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."

Fellow GP Des Spence, who practises in the Maryhill area of the city, described how the LCP has transformed care, and details the harrowing experiences patients could have expected 25 years ago when he was training.

Dr Spence wrote in the same publication how junior doctors at that time were not able to acknowledge the likelihood of death and instead were expected to intervene, even if this was only likely to increase the patient's suffering.

"I had no experience in pain relief," he said. "In hospitals, far from their loved ones, patients were left screaming in pain in the dark, and behind unmarked curtains were mass undignified and peace-less deaths."

He added that patients were unprepared for the inevitable deaths, and "those in command seemed blind to the carnage".

It has been claimed doctors are establishing "death lists" of patients to put on LCP, a term Dr Spence does not dispute. But he added: "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 'death lists' exist to tackle a taboo. They facilitate discussion about death with patients and families."

Because of the concerns about the way the LCP has been implemented in some hospitals, the UK Government has launched a review of the procedures involved. Dr Spence said this is welcome. "The newspapers are right, this pathway must be used with full explanation and the consent of all involved. If it has not been used this way, the review is welcome if only to reassure the public," he said.

One expert has claimed 29% of NHS deaths involve LCP. Professor Patrick Pullicino has claimed that on average a patient dies 33 hours after entering the process.

Meanwhile, Mr Tulloch, 55, of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, said the use of LCP had clearly been wrong in his mother's case, as she had not been close to death, and disputes that NHS Lothian discussed the decision to place her on it with him.

He told the Herald: "I'm not qualified to say that the LCP should be abandoned, and it may be that if it is used in the way it was intended it may actually be really good for people who are genuinely in their last days. But it was misused in my mother's case and I don't believe her's is an isolated case. It definitely needs to be tightened up."

LCP was developed in the north-west of England, first being used at the Marie Curie Hospice in Liverpool, in the 1990s. It aims to increase the comfort of the dying and ease the pain felt by patients in their last hours. In 2004, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommended it to hospitals. Its use is now widespread.