Objectives: The aim of the present study was to explore the perspectives of patients receiving treatment for colorectal cancer and compare priorities and attitudes in rural and urban areas.
Method: A qualitative study was carried out involving four focus groups in the Aberdeen and Northern Centre for Haematology, Oncology and Radiotherapy. The sample comprised 22 patients at various stages of treatment for colorectal cancer and 10 of their relatives from different locations of Northeast Scotland and Shetland. The main themes generated by participants were identified, and similarities and differences between urban and rural patients were noted within these themes.
Results: Components of care that were important to rural and urban patients were speed of referral to specialists for treatment and issues of communication including test results and delivery of bad news. Tensions were perceived at the interface of primary and secondary care and these were blamed for delays in referral and communication breakdowns. For some, the referral process comprised a series of barriers to be overcome, and there were additional hurdles for remote patients referred initially to local (non-specialist) hospitals. Rural patients appeared to be less demanding than their urban counterparts when evaluating their care, and this was extended to the acceptance of some clear transport problems.
Conclusions: For patients, the most important components of cancer care were similar, whether rural or urban residents. The main differences for rural patients were lower expectations of care and more hurdles before reaching specialist care. These differences might explain the trend to more advanced disease at diagnosis in rural patients if they lead to significant delays. GPs have major influences on this and all the patients' priorities.