Background: While previous research has suggested that health care assistants supporting palliative care work in the community regard the provision of emotional labour as a key aspect of their role, little research has explored the experiences of family carers who are the recipients of such support.
Objective: To explore the emotional labour undertaken by health care assistants working in community palliative care from the perspectives of both health care assistants and bereaved family carers.
Design: We conducted a qualitative interview study in 2011–2012 with bereaved family carers of cancer patients who had received the services of health care assistants in the community, and health care assistants who provided community palliative care services. Transcripts were coded and analysed for emergent themes using a constant comparative technique.
Settings: Three different research sites in the United Kingdom, all providing community palliative care.
Participants and methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 33 bereaved family carers and eight health care assistants.
Results: Health care assistants view one of their key roles as providing emotional support to patients and their family carers, and family carers recognise and value this emotional support. Emotional support by health care assistants was demonstrated in three main ways: the relationships which health care assistants developed and maintained on the professional–personal boundary; the ability of health care assistants to negotiate clinical/domestic boundaries in the home; the ways in which health care assistants and family carers worked together to enable the patient to die at home.
Conclusion: Through their emotional labour, health care assistants perform an important role in community palliative care which is greatly valued by family carers. While recent reports have highlighted potential dangers in the ambiguity of their role, any attempts to clarify the ‘boundaries’ of the health care assistant role should acknowledge the advantages health care assistants can bring in bridging potential gaps between healthcare professionals and family carers.