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Delivering dementia care differently—evaluating the differences and similarities between a specialist medical and mental health unit and standard acute care wards: a qualitative study of family carers’ perceptions of quality of care
  1. Karen Spencer1,
  2. Pippa Foster1,
  3. Kathy H Whittamore2,
  4. Sarah E Goldberg1,
  5. Rowan H Harwood1,2
  1. 1Division of Rehabilitation and Ageing, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2Health Care of Older People, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Rowan Harwood; rowan.harwood{at}


Objectives To examine in depth carers’ views and experiences of the delivery of patient care for people with dementia or delirium in an acute general hospital, in order to evaluate a specialist Medical and Mental Health Unit (MMHU) compared with standard hospital wards. This qualitative study complemented the quantitative findings of a randomised controlled trial.

Design Qualitative semistructured interviews were conducted with carers of patients with cognitive impairment admitted to hospital over a 4-month period.

Setting A specialist MMHU was developed in an English National Health Service acute hospital aiming to deliver the best-practice care. Specialist mental health staff were integrated with the ward team. All staff received enhanced training in dementia, delirium and person-centred care. A programme of purposeful therapeutic and leisure activities was introduced. The ward environment was optimised to improve patient orientation and independence. A proactive and inclusive approach to family carers was encouraged.

Participants 40 carers who had been recruited to a randomised controlled trial comparing the MMHU with standard wards.

Results The main themes identified related closely to family carers’ met or unmet expectations and included activities and boredom, staff knowledge, dignity and fundamental care, the ward environment and communication between staff and carers. Carers from MMHU were aware of, and appreciated, improvements relating to activities, the ward environment and staff knowledge and skill in the appropriate management of dementia and delirium. However, communication and engagement of family carers were still perceived as insufficient.

Conclusions Our data demonstrate the extent to which the MMHU succeeded in its goal of providing the best-practice care and improving carer experience, and where deficiencies remained. Neither setting was perceived as neither wholly good nor wholly bad; however, greater satisfaction (and less dissatisfaction) with care was experienced by carers from MMHU compared with standard care wards.

  • Qualitative Research

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