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Abstract This paper examines the day to day organisation and management of surgical waiting lists. A review of the literature on waiting lists identifies the main perspectives on waiting lists and two of these, the queue and the mortlake, are examined. This paper provides a critical analysis of these two theoretical outlooks and considers the explanatory power of each. It draws upon the sociology of work to understand the process of waiting list management, focusing particularly on the role of low level bureaucrats within the hospital setting. Using qualitative case study data on the day to day practices and street level organisation of waiting lists it is possible to identify inadequacies in our perception of waiting lists, of what they are and how they work. In the light of this the paper reconsiders the waiting list phenomenon and finally a new metaphor is proposed, that of the ‘store’ or shop which helps to explain some of the troubles with National Health Service waiting lists. Copyright © 1991, Wiley Blackwell. All rights reserved

Original publication




Journal article


Sociology of Health & Illness

Publication Date





193 - 212