Objectives: Pakistani Muslims have the poorest overall health profile in Britain, for reasons which at present remain poorly understood. We sought to explore the impact of religious identity and beliefs on self-management of long-term conditions, on patient-professional communication and decision-making and health inequalities within Pakistani Muslim communities.
Design: Ethnographic study involving in-depth interviews and participant observation.
Results: Religious identity plays a central role in many individuals' attempts to make sense of their personal illness narrative. Practitioners and patients are typically unwilling to engage in discussion about religious influences on patient decision-making, reflecting patients' lack of confidence in the appropriateness of raising such issues, and professionals' lack of awareness of their importance. Patients consequently receive little or no support from professionals about decisions involving such influences on self-care. The policy vacuum and lack of patient-professional engagement in this area allows the use of stereotypes of Pakistani Muslims by practitioners to remain unchallenged in most healthcare settings. Social dynamics within these settings reflect those in wider UK society, in which many Pakistani respondents believe they are unwelcome. These factors affect the psychosocial well-being of Pakistani Muslims and on their ability to manage long-term conditions.
Conclusion: Shared understanding about the context in which patients manage long-term conditions is a precursor to effective lay-professional partnerships. Religious identity influences the health beliefs and practices of many British Pakistani Muslim patients. Failure to acknowledge and discuss this influence on long-term illness management leads to a vacuum in professional knowledge, inadequate support for patients' decision-making and poor responses to their requests for assistance. Findings indicate a need for practitioners to initiate more open discussion and raise questions about the pathways leading to higher rates of complications and the relationship between social status and health inequalities in this population.