British medical sociology emerged in the shadow of a publicly-funded National Health Service, and the need for evidence to support the development of policy and services. Although the initial focus was on applied problems, largely defined by the medical profession, a combination of permissive leadership in the early research centres and the desire of research administrators to widen research agendas, gave medical sociologists considerable latitude to developed distinctive research programmes. By the 1970s British medical sociologists were turning their attention to focused studies of interaction in health care settings, on the one hand, and professional power, structural interests, social disadvantage and gender, on the other. But this shift from applied empirical research to studies that drew more explicitly on sociological theory was halted and even reversed as the research funding climate changed, and the emphasis shifted to large multi-site, multi-disciplinary studies. While the ESRC still supports some basic social scientific research and medical sociologists also find work in multidisciplinary projects examining contemporary problems, sociological concepts are increasingly likely to be blended with concepts from other disciplines in final reports. British medical sociology is no longer an infant sub-discipline, but it still remains in many ways a marginal enterprise, uncertain of its identity and its place in the health research division of labour.
Keywords: Great Britain; National Health Service, theory, applied research, multi-disciplinary research, institutional context.