The objective of this study was to describe patients' and informal carers' perceptions of care received and services offered following a diagnosis of primary lung cancer. We prepared a prospective, national, mail questionnaire survey of 466 patients with a diagnosis of primary lung cancer and a lay carer of their choice. The setting was 24 randomly chosen hospitals throughout the UK, from a range of urban (n = 11) and rural settings (n = 13). The majority (76%/159) of responders were recipients of care from cancer units. Two hundred and nine patients (45%) with primary lung cancer and 70 (15%) lay carers completed questionnaires. The main results that we found were that key areas of unmet need were most apparent during periods away from acute service sectors, with as few as 40% of patients reporting having received as much help as they needed from community services. The greatest onus of care for patients fell to lay carers, but only 29% of patients identified their lay carers as having needs in relation to their illness. Where patients received all their diagnostic tests in one hospital they were significantly more likely to wait less time between first seeing their general practitioner (GP) and being told their diagnosis (P = 0.0001) than patients who had to attend more than one hospital during their diagnostic work-up period. Fifty per cent of patients reported experiencing some degree of breathlessness even at rest, but only 15% reported having received any advice on living with it. Less than a quarter (23%) of hospital consultants identified anxiety as a key problem for patients with lung cancer, but 66% of patients identified it as such. Hospital staff largely overlook the needs of informal carers, who derive support from a small, mainly community oriented group of professionals, but accessing help is problematic and is dependent on local resources and a need to be proactive.
Our conclusions are that developments in service provision for patients with lung cancer and their informal carers need to focus on six key areas: development of strategies to encourage patients to present earlier to their GP; ongoing evaluation of rapid diagnostic clinics; development and evaluation of a lung cancer care coordinator role; evaluation of innovations in delivery of nursing care in the community; development of local guidelines to facilitate equitable access to palliative care and social services; and evaluation of supportive strategies targeted at lay carers.