Background: Communicating effectively with palliative care patients has been acknowledged to be somewhat difficult, but little is known about the effect that training general practitioners (GPs) in specific elements of communication in palliative care might have. We hypothesized that GPs exposed to a new training programme in GP-patient communication in palliative care focusing on availability of the GP for the patient, current issues the GP should discuss with the patient and anticipation by the GP of various scenarios (ACA), would discuss more issues and become more skilled in their communication with palliative care patients. Methods. In this controlled trial among GPs who attended a two-year Palliative Care Peer Group Training Course in the Netherlands only intervention GPs received the ACA training programme. To evaluate the effect of the programme a content analysis (Roter Interaction Analysis System) was performed of one videotaped 15-minute consultation of each GP with a simulated palliative care patient conducted at baseline, and one at 12 months follow-up. Both how the GP communicated with the patient ('availability') and the number of current and anticipated issues the GP discussed with the patient were measured quantitatively. We used linear mixed models and logistic regression models to evaluate between-group differences over time. Results: Sixty-two GPs were assigned to the intervention and 64 to the control group. We found no effect of the ACA training programme on how the GPs communicated with the patient or on the number of issues discussed by GPs with the patient. The total number of issues discussed by the GPs was eight out of 13 before and after the training in both groups. Conclusion: The ACA training programme did not influence how the GPs communicated with the simulated palliative care patient or the number of issues discussed by the GPs in this trial. Further research should evaluate whether this training programme is effective for GPs who do not have a special interest in palliative care and whether studies using outcomes at patient level can provide more insight into the effectiveness of the ACA training programme. Trial registration. Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN56722368. © 2013 Slort et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.