Broken hearts and the heart broken: living with, and dying from, heart failure in Scotland
Pratt, Rebekah Janet
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Heart failure is a common and serious chronic condition, which can be as ‘malignant’ as most forms of cancer (Stewart, MacIntyre, Hole, Capewell, & McMurray, 2001). Recent estimates are that around 40,000 men and 45,000 women are living with heart failure in Scotland (Stewart, MacIntyre, Capewell, & McMurray, 2003). Heart failure is significantly influenced by socioeconomic factors, with people on lower incomes being more likely to develop, and die faster from, heart failure (McAlister et al, 2004). There is a growing body of research on the experience of living with heart failure, however, none provides serious consideration of the role of socioeconomic factors in impacting the experience of heart failure, and some qualitative research may actually obscure such factors. There were two main aims in this thesis. One was to explore how qualitative research methods can better consider the relationship between experience and broader context, such as the influence of socio-economic factors on health. The other aim was to examine the experiences of people as they live with and die from heart failure in ways that situate their accounts in the broader context of their lives. An initial research study, on which I was the main researcher, focused on the experiences of 30 people living with advanced heart failure. These people, their carers and key health professionals were interviewed, where possible, three times over a six months period. This thesis re-examines that study, focusing on 20 of those participants, for which a total of 122 interviews were conducted. I used a dialogical approach to see whether the socioeconomic context of heart failure for these respondents, could be captured through exploring experiences, performance, relationships, discourses and institutional practices, the social processes that mediate the relationship between socioeconomic disadvantage and chronic diseases were explored. This offers important learning in relation to the experience of living with heart failure, along with the experience of providing care. The findings highlight the need to broaden our view of chronic illness beyond biomedical approaches, and grow our methodological approaches along with that, in order to develop knowledge and practice that has relevance for people who live with and die from heart failure.