Narratives and gatekeeping: Making sense of triage nurses' practice


Publication date


Series/Report no

Sociology of Health and Illness;Volume 40, Issue 5 - June 2018



Document type


It is well documented that emergency service staff consider some patients to be ‘inappropriate attenders’. A central example is ‘trivia’, denoting patients with medical problems considered too ‘trivial’ to warrant attention. Although research has repeatedly shown that frontline staff violate guidelines in turning away ‘trivial’ patients, existing research has paid insufficient attention to why staff are willing to engage in guideline‐violating gatekeeping, which may put both themselves and ‘trivial’ patients at risk. To address this issue, the present article explores nurses’ narratives about ‘trivial’ patients – referred to in this context as ‘GP patients’ – drawing on fieldwork data from a Norwegian emergency service. The article reconstructs three narrative clusters, showing that nurses’ gatekeeping is motivated by concerns for the patient being turned away, for nurses and more critically ill patients, and for the service they work for. Some of the issues embedded in these narratives have been under‐analysed in previous research – most importantly, the role of identity and emotion in nurses’ gatekeeping, and how patient narratives can function as ‘social prognoses’ in nurses’ assessments. Analysis of these narratives also reveals an antagonistic relationship between nurses and ‘trivial’ patients that contradicts nurses’ ethical guidelines and indicates a need for healthcare reform.




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