Background. Government health care policy urges service providers to involve service users in the decision-making process. Research studies have recommended changes to current health care practice to facilitate this involvement. However, carers’ organizations continue to highlight a gap between policy and practice in relation to involvement.
Aim. The aim of the study reported on in this paper was to investigate involvement in a specific health care context with a view to identifying both opportunities for change and practical, realistic ways of bringing about that change. This was a qualitative case study using a case study design. The field site selected was a respite and assessment (23 bedded) ward within the Psychiatric Unit of a hospital specializing in the care of older people. Informal carers (n=20) and members of the multidisciplinary team (n=29) were interviewed about their views and experiences. The interviews were audiorecorded and transcribed. Family meetings, multidisciplinary team meetings and ward routines were the focus of non-participant observation. Field notes from these observations, together with the interview data were analysed using constant comparative method.
Results and Conclusions. The reported experiences of carers in this study highlighted four markers of satisfactory involvement: feeling that information is shared; feeling included in decision making; feeling that there is someone you can contact when you need to; and feeling that the service is responsive to your needs. The majority of carers felt dissatisfied with the level of involvement. The situation we found echoed that found in other studies, i.e. the majority of informal carers (henceforth ‘carers’) interviewed were dissatisfied with the level of their involvement. However, our investigation, in which the views of health care professionals as well as those of carers were sought, provided invaluable insight into why this might be the case. Two main sources of difficulty were found: hospital systems and processes, and the relationship between nursing staff and carers. The argument made is that practitioners themselves must notice and challenge these barriers if carer involvement is to be facilitated.