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Clinical practice guidelines produced by NICE - the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence - are seen as key mechanisms to regulate and standardise UK healthcare practice, but their development is known to be problematic, and their adoption and uptake variable. Examining what a guideline or health policy means to different audiences, and how it means something to those communities, provides new insight about interpretive discourses. In this paper we present a micro-analysis of the response of healthcare professionals to publication of a single NICE guideline in 2009 which proposed a re-organisation of professional services for chronic non-specific low back pain. Adopting an interpretive approach, we seek to understand both the meaning of the guideline and the socio-political events associated with it. Drawing on archived policy documents related to the development and publication of the guideline, texts published in professional journals and on web-sites, and semi-structured interview data from professionals associated with the debate, we identify a key discourse that positions the management of chronic non-specific low back pain within physician jurisdiction. We examine the emergence of this discourse through policy-related symbolic artifacts taking the form of specific languages, objects and acts. This discourse effectively resisted and displaced the service reorganisation proposed by the guideline and, in so doing, ensured medical hegemony within practice and professional organisations concerned with the management of non-specific low back pain. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

Original publication




Journal article


Social Science and Medicine

Publication Date





138 - 145