Current UK health policy guidance locates primary care at the frontiers of health care modernization. New organizational structures have resulted in general practitioner (GP) practices being brought together in Primary Care Groups (PCGs) and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) each serving a much larger population group than the traditional GP practice. These changes have been accompanied with a need to explore new ways of working and thinking. This paper draws upon the experiences of nurses and GPs participating in an evaluation of workforce planning issues in primary health care. It explores how practitioners working in PCGs across one geographical area were able to gain a better understanding of what these changes, to both the structure and process of practice, might involve. During this developmental process the respondents used ‘the family’ metaphor, as a form of ‘shorthand’ to orientate themselves to the new responsibilities, challenges and opportunities presented by these changes to primary health care. It was in the use of terms and constructs that were familiar to their ‘everyday life’ experiences that made taking the first tentative steps in the change process easier. This paper suggests that using metaphors may be a powerful tool for policy makers, practitioners,managers and for researchers as they seek to communicate a plan for change and in understanding what these changes might mean.
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