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Keywords:

  • cystic fibrosis;
  • adults;
  • chronic illness;
  • qualitative research;
  • interviews;
  • family caregivers;
  • expertise;
  • emotion work;
  • home;
  • hospital

Background.  Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common autosomal recessive genetic disease in Caucasian people, traditionally conceptualized as a condition whereby sufferers died in childhood. However, the current median survival age of 30 and a predicted median survival age of 40 for those born with the disease over the last decade ensure that families members will assist hospital staff with treatment and care well into most patients' adulthood.

Aims.  This study explores the perceptions and experiences of lay care-giving amongst parents and partners of adults with CF who were being treated at a specialist CF centre in England.

Methods.  Thirty-one relatives of adults with CF were interviewed in their own homes using an interview topic guide. All interviews were audiotape recorded and transcribed verbatim. Analysis of data was assisted by ATLAS-ti, a software package for qualitative research.

Findings.  Two main themes surrounding lay carers' role in treatment and care were identified. Firstly, the notion of lay carers giving ‘expert’ care, both in hospital and at home was recognized. Parents' expertise was greater than that of partners until the patient required intensive hospital interventions, when partner expertise increased. Secondly, the degree of lay carers' felt inclusion in the hospital consultation appeared to depend on the nature of their relationship with the patient and the patients' health state.

Conclusion.  Lay carers are routinely performing tasks for adults with CF that were once the remit of trained nurses. Families need higher levels of nursing and social support when certain treatments are used at home. Attention needs to be directed to how lay carers of adult patients can be included in hospital consultations.