Health and social care systems experience difficulty in delivering the continuity of care that service users want. Lack of clarity about what continuity means hinders service organisation and delivery. The NIHR Service Delivery and Organisation programme funded a series of research projects to tackle this conceptual confusion, and subsequently commissioned a review of the projects' outputs. The aim was to assess how the projects had progressed conceptualisation and measurement of continuity, and increased knowledge about what influenced it. This paper concentrates on two questions: what is continuity of care, and what influences it? We reviewed the projects' outputs and extracted data using techniques adapted from systematic reviewing methods. We treated the outputs as 'transcripts' and used the Framework approach to qualitative analysis to handle them. This maintained the coherence of individual projects while allowing cross-project themes to emerge. We then produced a narrative synthesis of findings. Service users and carers valued good relationships with professionals; this did not always mean seeing the same person and encompassed trust, the professional's style and communication skills, and the time made available. Service users and carers also valued understanding the patient's condition and treatment. This went beyond giving information, to include communication that recognised individuals' capacities and that was skilled, given sufficient time, and from a trusted source. Service users valued co-ordination between professionals and services; this covered communication, planning, and services' storage and use of information about them. Co-ordination with carers and others was also important. Experiences of continuity were influenced by service users' characteristics and circumstances, care trajectories, the structure and administration of services, professionals' characteristics, carer participation, the wider context of the 'whole person' and satisfaction. The review highlighted how service users, carers and professionals construct continuity dynamically between themselves. This has implications for both professional training and service users' expectations.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.