Strife of Interests: Constraints on integrated and co-ordinated comprehensive PHC in Australia

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The 1978 World Health Organisation Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care (PHC) emphasised a comprehensive view which stressed the importance of cure, prevention, promotion and rehabilitation delivered in a way that involved local communities and considered a social, economic and political perspective on health. Despite this, selective approaches have dominated. This paper asks why this has been the case in Australia through a multi-method study of regional PHC organisations. Interviews with senior policy players, focus groups with non-government organisations and document analysis inform an institutional and power analysis of PHC. The findings indicate that there are different interests competing for attention in PHC but that medical perspectives prove the most powerful and are reinforced by the actors, ideas and institutions that shape PHC. Community perspectives which stress lived experience and social perspectives on health are marginal concerns in the implementation of PHC. The other important interest is that of a neo-liberal perspective on health policy which stresses cost-containment, close measurement of activity and fragmented contracting out of services. This perspective is not compatible with a social determinants of health perspective and can also conflict with a medical view. The result of the interplay between competing interests and the distribution of power is a selective PHC system that is not likely to change without radical shifts in power and perspectives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112824
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Health equity
  • Health policy
  • Institutionalism
  • Medical model
  • Power
  • Primary health care
  • Public policy
  • Social determinants


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