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Title: Talking about 'public health' : an exploration of the public health roles of primary care practitioners in England
Author: Wirrmann, Erica
ISNI:       0000 0001 3571 0414
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2004
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The British Government, since 1997, have placed a strong emphasis on public health and the reduction of health inequalities. Alongside this, they have progressed a major reform of the NHS which aims to 'shift the balance of power' to the frontline. Primary care is an increasingly important aspect of the Government's new agenda, which aims to improve health for everyone, and for the worst off in particular. This thesis identifies general practice, and the core practitioners that work within it, as key potential contributors to a public health agenda. But 'public health' is a conceptually contested terrain, and as a concept, can be understood and interpreted in a myriad of ways. The impact of this lack of shared understanding is explored both for policy making and implementation, and for the development of public health practice in primary care. This research brings together public health and primary care literatures in order to illuminate the historical and organisational contexts within which current developments are taking place. It critically analyses the public health discourse of New Labour policy documents in order to explore the ways in which 'public health' is understood and talked about within recent government policy, and the government's expectations of primary care practitioners, in terms of their public health roles. Finally, the research draws on case study material from one (pre-2002) health authority area in England to examine practitioners' understandings of public health, and their perceptions of their public health roles. Using Wenger's (1998a) social theory of learning as a framework, it looks at the organisational and wider contexts in which practitioners work, and explores how varied and unclear understandings of public health, both in policy and practice, might be affecting practitioners' engagement with public health. The study highlights the dangers of vagueness surrounding the term public health, and finds a tendency both in policy and practice to regard it as a set of activities, rather than as an approach to work. Its malleability means that it can be interpreted both in a politically acceptable way, and in a way that fits within existing practice. Thus, as a concept, it loses its radical edge and is no longer something that challenges or guides policy and practice. The research finds that the ways in which practitioners interpret public health can contribute to their non-engagement in the public health agenda. This is not helped by conflicts within policy which threaten the development of stronger public health roles within general practices. The thesis concludes by recommending the development of shared understandings of public health, particularly as a valuedriven approach to work, rather than as a set of activities.
Supervisor: Peckham, Stephen ; Halcli, Abbey Sponsor: ESRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral