Background: Cancer affects millions of individuals globally, with a mortality rate of over eight million people annually. Although palliative care is often provided outside of specialist services, many people require, at some point in their illness journey, support from specialist palliative care services, for example, those provided in hospice settings. This transition can be a time of uncertainty and fear, and there is a need for effective interventions to meet the psychological and supportive care needs of people with cancer that cannot be cured. Whilst Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has been shown to be effective across diverse health problems, robust evidence for its effectiveness in palliative cancer populations is not extensive. Method: This mixed-methods study uses a single-case experimental design with embedded qualitative interviews to pilot test a novel intervention for this patient group. Between 14 and 20 patients will be recruited from two hospices in England and Scotland. Participants will receive five face-to-face manualised sessions with a psychological therapist. Sessions are structured around teaching core ACT skills (openness, awareness and engagement) as a way to deal effectively with challenges of transition into specialist palliative care services. Outcome measures include cancer-specific quality of life (primary outcome) and distress (secondary outcome), which are assessed alongside measures of psychological flexibility. Daily diary outcome assessments will be taken for key measures, alongside more detailed weekly self-report, through baseline, intervention and 1-month follow-up phases. After follow-up, participants will be invited to take part in a qualitative interview to understand their experience of taking part and acceptability and perceived effectiveness of the intervention and its components. Discussion: This study is the first investigation of using ACT with terminally ill patients at the beginning of their transition into palliative treatment. Using in-depth single-case approaches, we will refine and manualise intervention content by the close of the study for use in follow-up research trials. Our long-term goal is then to test the intervention as delivered by non-psychologist specialist palliative care practitioners thus broadening the potential relevance of the approach.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- Palliative care
- Single-case design