Filling the gaps and finding our way: family carers navigating the healthcare system to access physical health services for the people they care for

Brenda Happell, Karen Wilson, Chris Platania-Phung, Robert Stanton
Journal of Clinical Nursing 2017, 26 (13-14): 1917-1926

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To elicit the perspectives of carers of people with mental illness regarding access to, and experience with, physical healthcare services for mental health consumers.

BACKGROUND: People diagnosed with mental illness have increased risks of physical illness and earlier death, problems able to be addressed through better physical health services. Carers of people with mental illness play a significant role in the mental healthcare system yet research examining their views is lacking.

DESIGN: Qualitative exploratory.

METHODS: In-depth interviews were conducted with 13 mental health carers. They were asked to describe their views and experiences pertaining to the physical health and availability of physical health care for the people they care for. Data were analysed using the framework of Braun and Clarke.

RESULTS: Analysis of carer responses identified two important themes: responsiveness and access, and a shortage of care coordination. Carers felt alienated from physical healthcare providers and were compelled to fill gaps in available care through persistence in ensuring access to physical healthcare services.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings identify carers as key stakeholders in the physical health care for the people they care for. Their involvement in accessing and coordinating care provides vital perspective on health service capacity, which requires further consideration in the practice and research domains.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Carers of people diagnosed with mental illness are crucial to the effective delivery of mental health services. Their perspectives must be central to their research agenda and contribute to the development of initiatives to improve clinical practice and promote improved physical health care.

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