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Paper 76: An examination of perceptions of roles and responsibilities for health amongst the general public

Simon Murphy, Emily Harrop, Sarah MacDonald, Heather Rothwell

(The need to develop our understanding of public perceptions of roles and responsibilities for health underpins a number of key policy developments in the UK (Wanless, 2004; Welsh Assembly Government, 2003), particularly in light of an increased focus on the relationship between the state and the individual in health improvement action (Halpern, 2003). Research was commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government to explore perceptions of responsibility at different levels including individual, organisational and state roles and responsibilities for health improvement amongst the general public and key stake holders.

This report focuses on the focus group study with member of the general public across Wales in 2005. Participants (n = 101) included a range of age groups and family backgrounds, with 57% female. A broad range of socio-economic backgrounds were represented. A semi structured schedule, newspaper headline prompts and a prioritisation task were used to guide the discussion. Group discussions were audio taped and transcriptions were analysed with main themes identified and validated by a second researcher. Areas of consent and disagreement within groups were identified and key areas of similarity and difference between socio-economic groups identified.

Participant’s understandings of personal responsibility for health were associated with socio-economic position and, to a lesser extent, with age. Issues associated with health communication, family processes, social capital, instrumentation, individualisation, social values and personal morality were used to explain and justify health protective and risk behaviours. The tension between what were seen as the responsibilities of the state and maintaining personal freedoms highlighted further differences between these groups. These results raise a number of implications for public health practice, with lay perceptions reflecting current policy debates.

Paper 76: An examination of perceptions of roles and responsibilities for health amongst the general public, Series Working Paper Series, (2006), ISBN 1-904815-42-1