Background. Nursing research generally, and palliative care research in particular, has been criticized for generating numerous small scale, often qualitative and/or evaluative studies, from which it is difficult to draw generalizations.
Aims. Our aim in this study was to conduct a synthesis of three evaluative studies of palliative care services in the United Kingdom (UK), to ascertain patients’ reported expectations and experiences of specialist care. We also demonstrate how secondary data analysis and synthesis can identify commonalities and differences between services.
Methods. Secondary qualitative data analysis was conducted on interview data gathered from 37 patients during three evaluation studies of specialist palliative care services. All studies used formative evaluation methodology.
Findings. Four themes were identified: (1) knowledge and information about services, (2) meeting practical and psychosocial needs, (3) lack of control, and (4) family atmosphere. Data are presented to illustrate the presence or absence of these themes in patients’ accounts of their expectations and experiences of each service.
Study limitations. Data were collected at different times between 1998 and 2000, and interviews were conducted by different researchers.
Conclusions. Synthesizing findings from small scale qualitative studies offers the possibility of demonstrating their applicability beyond local and specific contexts. It is imperative to listen to the experiences of patients and carers as a basis for developing interventions and guidelines for services. The methods proposed in this paper offer the potential for these voices of experience to be heard more widely.