Tackling health inequalities in primary care: an exploration of GPs’ experience at the frontline

Babbel, Breannon E. (2016) Tackling health inequalities in primary care: an exploration of GPs’ experience at the frontline. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3244501


In Scotland, life expectancy and health outcomes are strongly tied to socioeconomic status. Specifically, socioeconomically deprived areas suffer disproportionately from high levels of premature multimorbidity and mortality. To tackle these inequalities in health, challenges in the most deprived areas must be addressed. One avenue that merits attention is the potential role of general medical practitioners (GPs) in helping to address health inequalities, particularly due to their long-term presence in deprived communities, their role in improving patient and population health, and their potential advocacy role on behalf of their patients. GPs can be seen as what Lipsky calls ‘street-level bureaucrats’ due to their considerable autonomy in the decisions they make surrounding individual patient needs, yet practising under the bureaucratic structure of the NHS. While previous research has examined the applicability of Lipsky’s framework to the role of GPs, there has been very little research exploring how GPs negotiate between the multiple identities in their work, how GPs ‘socially construct’ their patients, how GPs view their potential role as ‘advocate’, and what this means in terms of the contribution of GPs to addressing existing inequalities in health.

Using semi-structured interviews, this study explored the experience and views of 24 GPs working in some of Scotland’s most deprived practices to understand how they might combat this growing health divide via the mitigation (and potential prevention) of existing health inequalities. Participants were selected based on several criteria including practice deprivation level and their individual involvement in the Deep End project, which is an informal network comprising the 100 most deprived general practices in Scotland. The research focused on understanding GPs’ perceptions of their work including its broader implications, within their practice, the communities within which they practise, and the health system as a whole.

The concept of street-level bureaucracy proved to be useful in understanding GPs’ frontline work and how they negotiate dilemmas. However, this research demonstrated the need to look beyond Lipsky’s framework in order to understand how GPs reconcile their multiple identities, including advocate and manager. As a result, the term ‘street-level professional’ is offered to capture more fully the multiple identities which GPs inhabit and to explain how GPs’ elite status positions them to engage in political and policy advocacy. This study also provides evidence that GPs’ social constructions of patients are linked not only to how GPs conceptualise the causes of health inequalities, but also to how they view their role in tackling them. In line with this, the interviews established that many GPs felt they could make a difference through advocacy efforts at individual, community and policy/political levels. Furthermore, the study draws attention to the importance of practitioner-led groups—such as the Deep End project—in supporting GPs’ efforts and providing a platform for their advocacy.

Within this study, a range of GPs’ views have been explored based on the sample. While it is unclear how common these views are amongst GPs in general, the study revealed that there is considerable scope for ‘political GPs’ who choose to exercise discretion in their communities and beyond. Consequently, GPs working in deprived areas should be encouraged to use their professional status and political clout not only to strengthen local communities, but also to advocate for policy change that might potentially affect the degree of disadvantage of their patients, and levels of social and health inequalities more generally.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Health inequalities, primary care, general practice, street level bureaucracy, public health, social determinants of health.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Supervisor's Name: Hastings, Professor Annette and Mackenzie, Professor Mhairi and Watt, Professor Graham
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Breannon E. Babbel
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7692
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Nov 2016 12:29
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2016 08:53
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/7692

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