Aim: To explore the experiences of people with advanced cancer and/or their caregivers accessing out-of-hours care.
Background: The organisation and delivery of out-of-hours in the United Kingdom has undergone major reforms over the past three decades culminating in the new General Medical Service contract in 2004. There are concerns around continuity of care for patients with complex needs under the new arrangements.
Design: A qualitative interview study was undertaken recruiting patients from two primary care trusts in Southwest England. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 28 people with advanced cancer and/or their caregivers who had recently requested out-of-hours care. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically.
Findings: Two main themes were identified including the legitimacy of seeking help and continuities of care. Most participants were reluctant to seek help, finding it difficult to decide whether their needs were sufficient to contact services. The degree to which services legitimised participants' requests mediated their experiences. Distress arose when services were dismissive of their needs, whereas respondents were appreciative of clinicians who provided them with reassurance. Participants reported a lack of relational and informational continuity of care. Consulting with an unfamiliar clinician out-of-hours raised doubts in some participants' minds about the quality of care. Some participants recounted episodes in which there were problems with pain management. While the themes suggest that the delivery of out-of-hours care as a whole was not always perfect, around-the-clock access to professional sources of support and reassurance was highly valued. However, the transfer of information to out-of-hours providers remains a key challenge; participants did not understand why out-of-hours providers could not access more information on their medical histories given the level of computerisation within the National Health Service. The findings highlight the need to improve continuity between in-hours and out-of-hours services for patients with complex needs.