• community development;
  • community;
  • ethnography;
  • health professionals;
  • Northern Ireland;
  • primary care-led National Health Service;
  • primary care;
  • professional perspectives

Health professionals’ perspectives on service delivery in two Northern Ireland communities

This research builds on the findings of an ethnographic study of health inequalities in two small, rural communities in Northern Ireland. Through further analysis of existing data, this second study aimed to explore health professionals’ perspectives on issues of service delivery relevant to government policy on primary care. Anthropological fieldwork was conducted for two consecutive 4-month periods during 1995 and 1996 in one predominantly Catholic and one predominantly Protestant town. To preserve confidentiality, the locations have been given the pseudonyms, respectively, of Ballymacross and Hunterstown. Research tools included fieldwork journals and a fieldwork diary, meetings with key informants, tape-recorded interviews, group discussions, participant observation and use of secondary material such as census data, local newspapers and community health profiles. Interviews with 15 health workers revealed that there was not a coherent approach to achieving health gain, little collaborative enterprise and minimal interaction between the different professional groups. The National Health Service (NHS)-employed primary care professionals, more than local community workers, appeared to be demoralized, exhausted and suspicious of the business-orientated health service. In this respect, the primary care-led NHS appeared not to be working. It is concluded that a shared health agenda should be developed by NHS-employed primary care professionals and local community workers to create a health-inducing environment at community level. This needs to be complemented by the establishment of formal mechanisms for inter-agency working at local, professional and government levels.