Holding relationships in primary care: A qualitative exploration of doctors' and patients' perceptions

Simon Cocksedge, Rebecca Greenfield, G. Kelly Nugent, Carolyn Chew-Graham

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    Background: Ongoing doctor-patient relationships are integral to the patient-centred ideals of UK general practice, particularly for patients with chronic conditions or complex health problems. 'Holding', a doctor-patient relationship defined as establishing and maintaining a trusting, constant, reliable relationship that is concerned with ongoing support without expectation of cure, has previously been suggested as a management strategy for such patients. Aim: To explore urban GPs' and patients' experiences of the management of chronic illness, with a particular focus on holding relationships. Design and setting: A qualitative study in urban and suburban areas of north west England. Method: Participating GPs recruited registered patients with chronic illness with whomthey felt they had established a holding relationship. Data were collected by semi-structured interviews and subjected to constant comparative qualitative analysis. Results: GP responders considered holding to be a small but routine part of their work. Benefits described included providing support to patients but also containing demands on secondary care. Patient responders, all with complex ongoing needs, described the relationship with their GP as a reassuring, positive, and securing partnership. Both GP and patient responders emphasised the importance of pre-existing knowledge of past life-story, and valued holding as a potential tool for changing health-related behaviour. Difficulties with holding work included fears of dependency, and problems of access. Conclusion: Holding relationships are a routine part of general practice, valued by both GPs and patients. Naming and valuing holding work may legitimise this activity in the management of people with chronic and complex health problems. ©British Journal of General Practice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)e484-e491
    JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
    Issue number589
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Chronic illness
    • Continuity of care
    • Doctor-patient relations
    • Qualitative research


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