• communications;
  • grounded theory;
  • rehabilitation;
  • relationships;
  • stroke

Communications among staff and patients on a stroke rehabilitation ward form the focus of this article, which reports on some aspects of a larger study using a grounded theory approach. Tape-recorded interviews were transcribed and analysed concurrently according to recommendations for the approach. A main theme entitled building a relationship was identified, and this process was found to occur in a context varying from participative at one end of a continuum to hierarchical at the other. Building a relationship was found to be influenced by role, personal qualities and organizational context. Appropriate relationships between role-holders were subject to negotiation, leading to a resulting congruence or incongruence between participants' expectations of each other and their roles. Personal qualities were brought into play in the process, with patients' views of staff and staff views of patients both being influential. Some of these views seemed to parallel what has been described in earlier literature as ‘the sick role’ and the labelling of patients as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Responses to personal qualities led to nurses ascribing meaning to patients' behaviour in terms of adjustment to their stroke, giving time to them to help them to adjust, and withdrawal and handing over to other staff if this strategy failed. Organizational context also had an influence on building a relationship, with time constraints being identified particularly by nurses, and the need to fit in the most essential aspects of care. Place was also important, in that nurses were confined to the ward as a work location, whereas other therapists and doctors worked in other places and sometimes had the facility to take patients off the ward to concentrate on therapy. The findings are discussed against the background of related literature and the conclusion is drawn that the crucial role of nurses in rehabilitation is not recognized and valued, and that shortages of resources - especially suitably qualified and trained nursing staff- are a negative influence on building the relationships which are vital to successful rehabilitation.