Qualitative research is used to gain an understanding of the perceptions, behaviours and motivations of people. It provides insights into an issue or situation and enables the researcher to understand the experiences of those involved.

Qualitative research is important because it provides data and analysis methods that allow researchers to explore events and experiences in-depth and to understand the context, decisions and meanings that individuals give to their actions. A detailed picture can be built up about why people act in certain ways and the underlying reasons for those actions. Qualitative methods engage individuals more actively and openly than is possible for example in a structured survey, and provides greater detail as experiences are explored in more depth e.g. ‘can you tell me more about X to help me to understand why you feel that way?’

If used alongside quantitative data collection, qualitative research can explain why a particular response was given. Qualitative research uses a range of methods to collect data such as interviews, focus groups, observations, and document analysis.

Qualitative research at CCC

A range of studies are conducted at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre which use qualitative research methods. Two examples are presented here.

The first study identified what was important to patients’ attending The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. Thirty individuals who were at the beginning, middle or end of treatment for lung, colorectal and head and neck cancer were interviewed. The majority were outpatients and receiving radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these. The results showed that patients obtained a range of positive health benefits from their contact with staff, patients and the public at CCC. They described how they felt in ‘safe hands’, and that even though they may feel vulnerable and anxious, they could still feel safe and supported if their concerns were dealt with. The results of the study were presented at the NCRI Conference in Liverpool, November 2017; at staff meetings; and have been published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing (ref: Appleton L, Poole H, Wall, C. Being in safe hands: Patients’ perceptions of how cancer services may support psychological well‐being. Journal of Advanced Nursing 2018). Following the study a survey was undertaken with staff on their views about how emotional support is offered to patients. This has resulted in improvements to the training, awareness and support of staff across departments within the Trust.

The second study investigated how the language used in cancer influenced patients’ personal and social adjustment after completing a course of treatment. This topic was selected by patients as a priority area for research. Patients from across three cancer networks in the Northwest of England whose course of treatment for cancer had ended were invited to take part in a series of focus groups. The discussions focused on patients’ experiences of words and phrases used by health service professionals and the popular media. The results highlighted the power of words and it was not surprising to find that common words and concepts in the language of cancer prompted strong reactions, both positive and negative. While some patients found particular phrases and words helpful, others found them disruptive to their well-being. This highlighted how the use of language clearly needs to take into account individual communication preferences and styles. The study was presented to staff and patient groups within and outside the Trust; at the NCRI Conference in Liverpool, November 2016; and has been published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing (ref: Appleton L, Flynn M. Searching for the new normal: exploring the role of language and metaphors in becoming a cancer survivor. European Journal of Oncology Nursing 2014). The results have informed the training of students and our staff.

For further information about Qualitative Research at the Centre please contact Dr Lynda Appleton.