Objective: We aim to explore the barriers to accessing primary care for socio-economically disadvantaged older people in rural areas.
Methods: Using a community recruitment strategy, fifteen people over 65 years, living in a rural area, and receiving financial support were recruited for semi-structured interviews. Four focus groups were held with rural health professionals. Interviews and focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed. Thematic analysis was used to identify barriers to primary care access.
Findings: Older people's experience can be understood within the context of a patient perceived set of unwritten rules or social contract-an individual is careful not to bother the doctor in return for additional goodwill when they become unwell. However, most found it difficult to access primary care due to engaged telephone lines, availability of appointments, interactions with receptionists; breaching their perceived social contract. This left some feeling unwelcome, worthless or marginalised, especially those with high expectations of the social contract or limited resources, skills and/or desire to adapt to service changes. Health professionals' described how rising demands and expectations coupled with service constraints had necessitated service development, such as fewer home visits, more telephone consultations, triaging calls and modifying the appointment system.
Conclusion: Multiple barriers to accessing primary care exist for this group. As primary care is re-organised to reduce costs, commissioners and practitioners must not lose sight of the perceived social contract and models of care that form the basis of how many older people interact with the service.