Aim The study aimed to elucidate any attitudes acute hospital physiotherapists may have towards palliative cancer patients.
Background With advances in medical technology, increasing numbers of patients are ‘living with’ a terminal cancer diagnosis for longer periods; this coupled with changes in government policy, is resulting in patients being treated closer to home rather than in specialist centres, bringing physiotherapists into increasing contact with this patient group.
Methods Semi-structured interviews (analysed utilising Colaizzi’s method of analysis), of the first twelve physiotherapists from an acute hospital in the UK who volunteered for the study and who met the inclusion criteria.
Results Two clusters of themes were identified, namely Attitudes and Issues. There were four sub-divisions of Attitudes; terminology, physiotherapists’ perceptions, other professionals’ perceived attitudes towards physiotherapists, and patients and their families perceived attitudes towards physiotherapists’ role with terminally ill cancer patients.
“I’d say there are a lot of physio’s that think it’s probably a little bit pointless”
“try and maintain their quality of life … by their thinking… and hopefully try and meet it.”
There were six sub-divisions of issues: communication, education, emotions, boundaries, referring onward and time.
“I think they’re [physiotherapists] scared that that’s going to be asked of you…will I walk again?”
Conclusions Some physiotherapists understand and apply their skills to improve the quality of life of palliative cancer patients. However it is suggested that the majority of physiotherapists regard these patients as ‘dying from’ rather than ‘living with’ a terminal cancer diagnosis. Referral protocols and service pathways are lacking. Physiotherapists require support and education to enhance particular skills and confidence.
Application to hospice practice Hospices have the opportunity to establish rehabilitation teams and pathways with acute hospitals to improve access to rehabilitation for all palliative cancer patients and to deliver services in line with government policy.
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