Background: Research shows that the way that healthcare staff experience their job impacts on their individual performance, patient experience and outcomes as well as on the performance of organisations. This article builds on this literature by investigating, with multi-disciplinary clinical teams as well as patients and relatives, what factors help or hinder changes designed to improve patient experience. Methods: Qualitative research looking at patient- and family-centred care (PFCC) on two care pathways (stroke and hip fracture) was conducted in England and Wales. A realist approach combined with participatory action research was used to account for the complexity of organisational context and power relations. Multiple methods were used, including documentary analysis, participatory steering groups with staff and patient representatives, observations of the care pathways (n = 7), staff and patient and relative focus groups (n = 8), and hospital staff, patient and PFCC staff interviews (n = 47). Results: Findings highlight multiple factors that support and hinder good patient experiences. Within individual care, paternalistic values and a lack of shared decision-making and patient-centred care still exist. Supportive interdisciplinary teamwork is needed to address issues of hierarchy, power and authority amongst staff and managers. At the organisational level, key issues of waiting times, patient flow, organisational resources and timely discharge affect staff's time and capacity to deliver care. In addition, macro contextual factors, such as finance, policy, targets and measures, set particular limits for improvement projects. Conclusions: Given this context, improving patient experience needs to go well beyond small-scale projects at the micro and meso level to incorporate a more critical understanding of systems, the wider organisational context and how power operates at multiple levels to enable and constrain action. In order to more meaningfully understand and address the factors that can help or hinder activities to improve patient experiences, PFCC frameworks and methods need to account for how power inequities operate and require the adoption of more participatory co-produced and empowering approaches to involve patients, relatives, carers and staff in improving complex healthcare environments.