During the last century demographic and epidemiological transitions have had a radical impact upon health and health service provision. A considerable body of research on the sociological aspects of living with chronic illness has accumulated. Debate has focused on how social environments shape disability-related experiences, and the extent to which individual responses define health outcomes. Through the establishment of the Expert Patients Programme (EPP) in 2001, the Department of Health has sought to enhance NHS patients' self-management capacities. This paper discusses three areas relevant to this: the policy formation process leading up to the EPP's present stage of development; the evidence base supporting claims made for its effectiveness; and the significance of psychological concepts such as self-efficacy in approaches to improving public health. The conclusion discusses NHS developments in primary care and public involvement in health and healthcare, and the implications that initiatives such as the EPP carry for the future. It is argued that to facilitate a constructive process of 'care transition' in response to epidemiological and allied change, awareness of cognitive/psychological factors involved in illness behaviours should not draw attention away from the social determinants and contexts of health.