University of Leicester eBulletin

'He Treats You as a Person Not Just Like a Number': The Meaning of Personal Care in General Practice

June 2003 

A qualitative study of the meaning of personal care in general practice, British Medical Journal, June 14

A new study led by the University of Leicester has analysed the meaning of personal care in a GP’s surgery – and the risks posed to personal care through new changes.

The study was led by Professor Richard Baker of the University of Leicester, in collaboration with Professor Mary Bouton at Oxford Brookes University, and Professor George Freeman at Imperial College, London, and was carried out by two Leicester researchers - Carolyn Tarrant and Dr Kate Windridge.

The results, published in this week’s British Medical Journal, describe patients’ experiences of personal care, and health professionals’ views on making care personal. 

Ms Tarrant, who is lead author of the paper, said: “General practitioners (GPs) have traditionally provided ‘personal’, continuing care to their patients. However, ongoing changes in the organisation of primary care, such as the increasing number of large GP practices, and the introduction of other primary care services such as NHS Direct and NHS walk-in centres, make it less likely that patients will receive all their care from the same GP - and there is concern that this will mean care becomes less ‘personal’. 

”We conducted interviews with 40 patients, 13 GPs, 10 practice and community nurses, and six practice receptionists.

“We found that patients and professionals alike valued personal care, and that personal care is promoted by, but not always dependent on, an ongoing relationship between a patient and a health care professional.  The whole practice team, including practice receptionists, has an important role in making care personal.”

The research concludes: “Practices and individual health professionals can provide personal care even when patients do not consult a familiar health professional. In particular, if GPs and other practice members wish provide personal care to patients, it is important for them to have good communication skills, and to have the time to use these skills effectively. Personal care is also more likely if all members of the practice team are supportive and communicate well with each other. However, an ongoing patient-health provider relationship facilitates personal care, and for some patients in our study, only an ongoing relationship with an individual health professional could give them the level of personal care they needed.”

Changes in policy and practice in primary care could threaten personal care for some patients if it becomes more difficult for patients to get care in the context of a relationship when they need it. Consequently the paper recommends that practices should have systems that enable patients to consult in the context of a continuing relationship whenever they prefer to do so.

NOTE TO EDITORS: For further information contact Ms Carolyn Tarrant, Research Associate, Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK, 00 44 (0)116 258 4873; email

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