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Sociology and Health Care: an Introduction for Nurses, Midwives and Allied Health Professionals

Sheaff, Mike
Open University Press, Buckingham
2005
033521388X (hb)

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Cover of book In a crowded market of introduction texts to sociology of health and illness it is increasingly difficult for authors to introduce a 'different' textbook. Sheaff's textbook is focused specifically on health care students who are new to sociology. He has an interesting first chapter with the title Health care and the 'sociological imagination'. This chapter highlights that the key focus is on the NHS, the aim of the book, which is 'to provide suggestions and examples of how sociological concepts and insights can be used to help think about important contemporary issues in health care' (page 3). The material for the book has been selected on the basis of two questions (page 4):

1. What kind of relationship is needed between patients and practitioners, and how are inequalities between them to be addressed?
2. How do we respond to rising levels of illness, particularly those associated with chronic disease (recognising its unequal distribution in society)?

The first chapter also introduces a range of issues about social aspects of health care and some issues about sociology, the use of theory, and so on. However, I fear that most students will happily skip this chapter and go straight to the one relevant to this week's lecture or the essay question. This would be a real pity as it is an easily accessible and enjoyable introduction into various aspects of the sociology of health and illness. Including the already mentioned Introduction the book has ten chapters plus a short Conclusion. These chapters include the usual topics such as, for example: Diagnosis, meaning & expertise; Work, control & health; Patients, clients & professionals; Inequality and access to health care.

Introducing contemporary issues, Bristol and Alderhay, may make the book look up-to-date to reviewers like me, but I doubt whether it will really come across as such for the first-year nursing or midwifery student in 2007.

The chapter on Society, health & medical care introduces the usual suspects, such as Irving Zola, Thomas McKeown, Richrad Titmuss and Ivan Illich, but it also offers a short section on the Cuban health care system, as well as references to the work of social historians such as Asa Briggs or medical historians such as Roy Porter. This makes it a highly interesting chapter, but it reads more like a history of social medicine chapter than an introduction of medical sociology on the topic.

In his chapter Work, control & health Sheaff uses Karl Marx's work extensively. Some very interesting material, but sometime one could question the link to health and health care. On page 176 there are two quite long quotes to Das Kapita, on the 'labour process', both would not be out of place in a general sociology first year text. However, it is not made clear the novice reader what the relevance is of these quotes, as they are not linked directly to health care jobs in the 21 century.

Sociology & Health Care offers its readers a short appendix (pages 227-233) on the classical sociological theorists Marx, Weber and Durkheim. Sheaff pre-empts potential criticism as to why more recent social theorists are not included to the same extent in his book by stating that ' their ideas are best understood in the context of the contribution of classical social theory' (page 227). Again interesting, but I wonder what role this will play for the average student using the text book.

A good textbook is partly characterised by a good Index. Sociology & Health Care has more than 12 pages of Index which is suitably extensive and appears to cover the kind of topics one would expect.

Sociology & Health Care is easy to read and offers an introduction into selected, but key areas, of the sociology of health and illness. It is a useful book for health care students as well as health care workers who are interested in the social aspects of their work, their job and how it all fits into the wider society.

Edwin van Teijlingen
University of Aberdeen

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1. What kind of relationship is needed between patients and practitioners, and how are inequalities between them to be addressed?
2. How do we respond to rising levels of illness, particularly those associated with chronic disease (recognising its unequal distribution in society)?