Using secondary sources to support social and health research
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This event focuses on using secondary sources to support social and health research.

Second thoughts: reusing secondary health care data for sociological analysis – speaker: Professor Rod Sheaff.

Using worked examples, this session will consider the research uses of secondary healthcare data on:

  • NHS activity held by the NHS Information Centre, including patient-level data from HES and general-practice level data.
  • Individual patients' health careers and continuity of care, recorded in personal medical records
  • 'Grey' managerial and policy documents

For each of these, the session will explore the issues that arise in accessing the data, extracting and cleaning the data, and the types of analyses - especially sociological analyses - that the data can be used to feed. The worked examples are taken from recent and current health research, mainly in the UK.

‘Giving accounts’: use of documentary evidence to explore information and secrets relating to a case of organisational failure – speaker: Dr Mike Sheaff.

This session will consider how information held by NHS organisations might be used to gain accounts that differ from those offered in public accounts. The particular focus is upon the collapse of a social enterprise in 2009, which had won contracts with a Primary Care Trust and the Department of Health.

The department’s response to the organisation’s collapse illustrates Erving Goffman’s observation about situations where, “the audience must not acquire destructive information about the situation that is being defined for them... a team must be able to keep its secrets and have its secrets kept... one overall objective of any team is to sustain the definition of the situation that its performance fosters”  (Goffman, 1959/1990: 141).

Use will be made of documentary information available through public sources, and other documents obtained through disclosures made in response to Freedom of Information requests. In making comparisons between different accounts, attention will be given to the management of what Goffman described as “dark secrets through the control of information”.


2pm: Registration
2.10pm: Introduction (Dr Tony Gilbert)
2.15pm: Second thoughts - reusing secondary healthcare data for sociological analysis (Professor Rod Sheaff, Professor of Health and Social Services Research, Plymouth University)
3.15pm: Break
3.45pm: 'Giving accounts' - use of documentary evidence to explore information and secrets relating to a case of organisational failure (Dr Mike Sheaff, Associate Professor in Sociology, Plymouth University)
4.45pm: Closing (Professor Gayle Letherby)

Location: Room 508, Davy Building, Plymouth University.

The cost for participants is £1 for British Sociological Association (BSA) members and £2 for non BSA members. Payment is on arrival, booking essential. Please book via the Eventbrite website.

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Today's events

Speaker biographies

Professor Rod Sheaff

Rod Sheaff's research interests are in health policy and its implementation, and in the relationships between organisational structures and health policy outcomes. His current research involves collaboration with German, Italian and Swedish researchers, and he has worked in many other countries. He is a founding member of the Peninsula Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (PenCLAHRC) and co-chairs the Primary Care Special Interest Group of the European Health Management Association (EHMA). He publishes occasionally in such journals as Social Science and Medicine and Sociology of Health and Illness

Dr Mike Sheaff

Mike Sheaff's teaching and research interests have covered areas of health and illness, and work and organisation. Recent work has focused on diagnosis and support for people with dementia, and their carers, including a current project with Devon County Council. Mike has been active in a variety of community and trade union roles, and for nine years was an elected Plymouth city councillor. His interest in the use of FOI requests in social research was initially prompted by experiences raising questions about governance in the NHS when a Non-Executive Director with Plymouth Primary Care Trust. 

Event photography and video
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