The increase of chronic illness as a leading cause of death has given rise to self-care and expert patient initiatives. Caring for chronically ill people places a tremendous economic burden on the health care system, informal carers, the labour market and benefit system (Department of Health 2001, 2004, 2005). Thus, in many countries health policy encourages patients to become ‘experts’ in the self-management of their conditions in the belief that it will help save money and improve health and well-being (Wanless 2002). For example, the notion of ‘expert patients’ has emerged in UK policy and is pivotal to government plans to modernise the National Health Service (NHS) by linking patient expertise to ideas of empowerment, a better quality of life, self-esteem and a user-driven NHS (Department of Health 2001; Fox et al 2005). Self-management and expert patient initiatives aim to encourage chronically ill patients to become more actively involved in decisions concerning their care and well-being (Lorig and Holman 2003; Lorig et al 1985, 1999, 2001).