Supporting Cancer Patients With Palliative Care Needs: District Nurses' Role Perceptions

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Abstract

The aim of this study was to examine UK district nurses' perceptions of their role in supporting palliative care cancer patients. Patients with cancer are living longer with the disease. District nurses are the largest UK workforce caring for people with cancer at home, the preferred place of care. Meeting patients' supportive and palliative care needs is complex. Little is known about district nurses' supportive role in the early phase of palliative care. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 34 district nurses. Data were analyzed thematically, with assistance from Atlas/ti. A dominant theme emerging from the interviews was ambiguity in the district nurses' supportive role in early palliative care. District nurses discussed the importance of making contact early on to support cancer patients and their families but had difficulty articulating this "support." Ambiguity, lack of confidence, and perceived skill deficits presented district nurses with dilemmas that were difficult to resolve. District nurses have great potential for meeting cancer patients' supportive and palliative care needs, a potential not currently realized. Education alone is unlikely to improve practice without an understanding of the tensions faced by district nurses in their work. Recognizing and addressing dilemmas in the everyday work of district nurses is central to moving practice forward.

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