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Managing social difficulties: roles and responsibilities of patients and staff



Background: Implementation of guidance on assessment and management of psychosocial and supportive-care problems or needs will be successful only if consideration is given to existing skills, experience and expectations of staff and patients. This study examines the roles and responsibilities of staff, patients and families in relation to management of social difficulties and proposes a pathway for response.

Methods: A qualitative study was performed using staff and patient interviews. Seventeen doctors and 16 nurses were interviewed using patient scenarios and a support service questionnaire. Patients (n = 41) completed a screening questionnaire (the Social Difficulties Inventory) and were interviewed. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and subjected to a Framework analysis. Analysis examined (1) actions taken by staff and patients in response to social difficulties, (2) reasons given for action taken and (3) perceptions of staff and patients of who was responsible for taking action.

Results: Staff were confident concerning clinically related issues (i.e. mobility) but more hesitant concerning difficulties related to money, work and family concerns. Patients liked to cope with problems on their own where possible, would have liked information or support from staff but were uncertain how to access this. Results led to development of a hierarchy of interventions in response to detected social difficulties.

Discussion: For routine assessment of social difficulties, patients, nurses and doctors will have to work collaboratively, with nurses taking a lead in discussion. For specific clinically related problems doctors would play a more primary role. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.