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Few studies have explored patients’ experiences of treatment for CFS/ME. This study aims to fill this gap by capturing the perspective of patients who have been treated by NHS specialist CFS/ME services in England.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted during the period June–September 2014 with 16 adults who were completing treatment at one of three outpatient NHS specialist CFS/ME services. Interviews were analysed thematically using constant comparison techniques, with particular attention paid to contrasting views.
Three themes were identified: ‘Journey to specialist services’; ‘Things that help or hinder treatment’; and ‘Support systems’. Within these themes nine sub-themes were identified. A wide range of factors was evident in forming participants’ experiences, including personal characteristics such as perseverance and optimism, and service factors such as flexibility and positive, supportive relationships with clinicians. Participants described how specialist services played a unique role, which was related to the contested nature of the condition. Many participants had experienced a lack of validation and medical and social support before attending a specialist service. Patients’ experiences of life before referral, and the concerns that they expressed about being discharged, highlighted the hardship and obstacles which people living with CFS/ME continue to experience in our society.
The experiences of CFS/ME patients in our study showed that NHS specialist CFS/ME services played a vital role in patients’ journeys towards an improved quality of life. This improvement came about through a process which included validation of patients’ experiences, acceptance of change, practical advice and support, and therapeutic outcomes.