Background: The 2007 National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) recommend early management of the condition. Investment by the Department of Health has expanded the number of specialist U.K. CFS/ME services but there has been little research on what patients hope or expect from referral.
Methods: A qualitative study exploring hopes and expectations of patients newly referred to a CFS/ME Service in the South of England. Interviews with 20 patients were analysed using the constant comparative method.
Results: Participants hoped referral to a specialist service would clarify diagnosis, give guidance and support, assist in understanding the complexity of the illness and provide hope for the future. While many participants valued the support of their GP, all viewed referral as offering a level of specialist expertise beyond that available in primary care. Many participants expressed high levels of uncertainty about the nature of CFS/ME. While participants hoped that the service would be able to provide information and guidance, many expressed the view that more information earlier in their illness would make the waiting period less stressful and make it possible for them to do more to help themselves.
Conclusions: GP referral to a specialist service appeared to be highly valued by the participants in this study. The levels of uncertainty expressed by many patients about the nature of CFS/ME raises the issue of the role of information on CFS/ME during the early stages of the illness and suggests a need for more reassurance and positive advice during the waiting period.