|Although health inequality is a growing concern, striking differences in health and life expectancy still exist
across and within OECD countries. In Oslo, the largest city in Norway, life expectancy differs by up to 7 years between districts. Equal access to healthcare can help reduce social differences in health. However, research indicates that older people at the lower level of the social gradient have more difficulty accessing health services.
Older people experience early hospital discharge and several transitions between and across care levels. In this study, using Bourdieu’s theory of practice as a theoretical lens, we explore social inequality in access to universal healthcare within care trajectories for older people in Oslo. Through observation of family meetings in intermediate care (N = 14) and semi-structured interviews with older patients (N = 15), informal caregivers (N = 12) and healthcare professionals (N = 18), the study identifies 15 unique care trajectories from hospital to home via intermediate care. Informed by a critical realist perspective and moving from west to east via the urban areas, there is a prominent finding of climbing down the social gradient and, subsequently, reduced access to healthcare. An overarching theme, ‘Navigating the healthcare maze’, was identified along with two subthemes: ‘Individuality meets system’ and ‘Having a feel for the game’. Navigating the healthcare maze depends on where you live, your level of education and health literacy and the ability to mobilize social networks. Furthermore, it is an advantage to fit into the professional habitus of the ‘active patient’ discourse. The findings will be relevant for politicians, managers, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders working in the field and in the development of services adapted to the needs of various socioeconomic groups.