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An exploration of family carers' experience of respite services in one specialist palliative care unit

Background: Changing patterns of care for terminally ill people mean that 90% of patients in the UK now spend the majority of their last year of life at home. It is now widely accepted that supporting individuals to die at home relies heavily on the availability of family carers to provide the majority of the care needed. However, one of the most common reasons for unplanned admissions near the end of life is carers’ inability to provide continuing care. One strategy to overcome these challenges has been to offer planned respite care. Despite recent studies, in reality little is known about respite services for patients with life limiting illness, in particular how respite is experienced by the caregivers or to what extent respite services address their needs. Methods: This prospective study, comprising mixed methods of data collection, explored the experiences of 25 family carers whose relative had been admitted to the local hospice for inpatient respite care. Semi-structured interviews were conducted at two time points: pre- and post-respite. The Relative Stress Scale Inventory was administered at both interviews. Results:Just over half of the sample were caring for a relative with a diagnosis of cancer (n = 13); the majority of the others had a number of neurological conditions (n = 12). The data demonstrate that managing care for relatives with a life limiting illness was perceived to be hard work, both physically and mentally. Inpatient respite care was considered important as it enabled family carers to have a break from the ongoing care-giving responsibilities, as well as being an opportunity to experience ‘normal life’ independently. The majority of family carers felt that their expectations of respite for themselves had been achieved. The respite service was well evaluated in relation to: standard of nursing care; alternative facilities on offer, atmosphere; and other care homes. Discussion: Currently, inpatient respite services are provided to two patient groups - those in the last year of life and those with a chronic life limiting illness. However, on closer analysis, the current model of service delivery, a two-week inpatient stay, may not be best suited to those caring for a relative in the last year of life. Similarly, it might be questioned whether an inpatient hospice is the most suitable setting for those patients needing supportive care, rather than specialist palliative care. The study has raised many issues that need to be considered in the support of carers caring for relatives with a life limiting illness with uncertain trajectories.

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Palliative Medicine

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Web of science - exported 12/7/2016
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