• cancer;
  • hospital discharge;
  • district nurses;
  • primary–secondary interface;
  • seamless care;
  • community nursing

Background. Despite nearly three decades of debate and policy guidance there is evidence that, in the United Kingdom, patient hospital discharge remains problematic. District nurses, who deliver skilled home nursing care, receive referrals from hospitals for continuing nursing care needs. However, district nurses’ expectations of appropriate patient referral from hospitals are not always achieved. In an attempt to improve services after hospital discharge, government policy has emphasized partnership between care providers, highlighting the need for smooth transition between care settings.

Aim. To explore hospital discharge and referral procedures for patients with cancer, with particular emphasis on referrals made by hospital nurses to district nurses.

Method. In-depth interviews were carried out with nurses actively involved in the discharge process as both referrers and recipients of referrals. Twenty nurses from a regional cancer centre and 20 district nurses from three adjacent primary care trusts were interviewed. Interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically, and themes compared between the two care settings.

Conclusions. We conclude that competing sets of expectations, not only between hospital and community nursing settings, but amongst district nurses themselves, are a major factor impeding agreement on referral criteria and satisfaction with the referral process.