The objective of this study was to explore the attitudes of older people and primary care professionals towards communication of diagnosis, prognosis and symptoms in heart failure. Forty-four interviews were conducted with people aged>60 years with heart failure (New York Heart Association III-IV) recruited from general practices in the UK. Ten focus groups were held with primary care professionals involved in heart failure management. Data were analysed thematically with the aid of the NUD*IST computer program. Participants reported problems with communication, including not being given enough information about their condition, or being given complex information that they did not understand. Many understood little about heart failure and the causes of, and ways to manage, their symptoms. Few participants had had discussions about the prognosis with any health professional, and this was confirmed in professional accounts. Difficulties with terminology were frequently reported: a diagnosis of 'heart failure' was rarely communicated to patients to avoid causing anxiety. Educational needs were identified by most primary care professionals in relation to heart failure management and specifically in relation to communication. In conclusion, communication was identified as being inadequate within primary care from both the patient and professional perspectives. These findings point to a need for an educational intervention tailored specifically to the need to improve the communication skills of primary care professionals in chronic heart failure.