The specialist palliative care nurse: a qualitative study of the patients' perspective

Alison Chapple, Sue Ziebland, Ann McPherson
International Journal of Nursing Studies 2006, 43 (8): 1011-22

BACKGROUND: Relatively little is known about patients' perceptions of the work and role of the specialist palliative care nurse. Understanding the patients' perspective can help to evaluate services, improve quality of care, and identify misunderstandings.

OBJECTIVES: To explore the experiences of those who said that they had a 'terminal illness', focusing on patients' perceptions of the work and role of these nurses.

DESIGN: Qualitative study with narrative interviews.

SETTING: England and Wales.

PARTICIPANTS: Forty-one people recruited through those working in hospices, community nurses, general practitioners, support groups, a national newspaper, and a conference on palliative care. Twenty-five people talked about the work of specialist palliative care nurses.

METHOD: Interviews were fully transcribed; followed by a thematic analysis with constant comparison.

RESULTS: Patients valued the nurses' work, particularly their advice on practical matters, information given about their disease, emotional support, advice on symptoms, and help with communication. They were glad that help was readily available. However, some patients who had been referred to the service did not realise that specialist palliative care nurses may be involved at a relatively early stage in a person's illness, and sometimes felt distressed by an early referral. One woman felt she had not had the emotional support she needed and another knew of women who had been upset because these nurses had discussed topics such as place of death 'too early'. However, people recognised the difficulties nurses faced in their work.

CONCLUSIONS: Although our study differs from other studies, particularly in the way people were recruited, our findings support previous studies that have shown that specialist palliative care nurses are highly valued by those who have a terminal illness. It is important for people to understand that these nurses may be involved from the time of diagnosis and that roles have changed.

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