In this paper, we use qualitative research techniques to examine the role of general practitioners in the management of the long-term sickness absence. In order to uncover the perspectives of all the main agents affected by the actions of general practitioners, a case study approach focussing on one particular employment sector, the public health service, is adopted. The role of family physicians is viewed from the perspectives of health service managers, occupational health physicians, employees / patients, and general practitioners. Our argument is theoretically framed by Talcott Parsons’s model of the medical contribution to the sick role, along with subsequent conceptualisations of the social role and position of physicians. Sixty one semi-structured interviews and three focus group interviews were conducted in three Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland between 2010 and 2012. There was a consensus among respondents that general practitioners put far more weight on the preferences and needs of their patients than they did on the requirements of employing organisations. This was explained by respondents in terms of the propinquity and longevity of relationships between doctors and their patients, and by the ideology of holistic care and patient advocacy that general practitioners viewed as providing the foundations of their approach to patients. The approach of general practitioners was viewed negatively by managers and occupational health physicians, and more positively by general practitioners and patients. However, there is some evidence that general practitioners would be prepared to forfeit their role as validators of sick leave. Given the imperatives of both state and capital to reduce the financial burden of long-term sickness, this preparedness puts into doubt the continued role of general practitioners as gatekeepers to legitimate long-term sickness absence.
Bibliographical noteImpact Factor 2.73, Q1, Social Sciences Biomedicine
- Ireland; realist evaluation; Parsons; sickness absence; sick role; medical role; family physicians; professions
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health(social science)
- History and Philosophy of Science