Illness careers and continuity of care in mental health services: a qualitative study of service users and carers.
Jones IR., Ahmed N., Catty J., McLaren S., Rose D., Wykes T., Burns T., Echo group None.
Continuity of care is considered by patients and clinicians as an essential feature of good quality care in long-term disorders, yet there is general agreement that it is a complex concept and the lack of clarity in its conceptualisation and operationalisation has been linked to a deficit of user involvement. In this paper we utilise the concept of the 'patient career' to frame patient accounts of their experiences of the mental health care system. We aimed to capture the experiences and views of users and carers focusing on the meanings associated with particular (dis)continuities and transitional episodes that occurred over their illness career. As part of a large longitudinal study of continuity of care in mental health a sub-sample of 31 users was selected together with 14 of their carers. Qualitative interviews framed around the service user's illness career explored general experiences of relationship with services, care, continuity and transition from both user and carer perspectives. Five key themes emerged: relational (dis)continuity; depersonalised transitions; invisibility and crisis; communicative gaps and social vulnerability. One of the important findings was the fragility of continuity and its relationship to levels of satisfaction. Supportive, long-term relationships could be quickly undermined by a range of factors and satisfaction levels were often closely related to moments of transition where these relationships were vulnerable. Examples of continuity and well managed transitions highlighted the importance of professionals personalising transitions and situating them in the context of the daily life of service users. Further research is required to identify how best to negotiate these key points of transition in the future.