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Keywords:

  • Primary care;
  • professional identity;
  • redistributing work;
  • categorising patients;
  • patient-centred care

Abstract

The paper focuses on the redistribution of medical work within primary health care teams. It reports the results of the analysis of interviews with general practitioners, practice nurses and managers, undertaken as part of an ethnographic study of primary care organisation and practice during a period of rapid organisational change. By examining the ways in which the respondents account for how work is being redefined and redistributed, we explore how current government policy and professional discourses combine to reconfigure both the identities of those who work in primary care and the nature of patienthood. In particular, we show how general practitioners are being reconfigured as medical specialists or consultants in ways that seem to depart radically from earlier claims that general practice is a distinctive field of social or biographical medicine. Within this new discourse medical work is distributed between doctors, nurses and unqualified staff in ways which make explicit the reduction of general practice work to sets of biomedical problems or tasks. At the same time, the devolution of much general practice work to less qualified and cheaper personnel is justified by drawing on a discourse of person-centred medicine.