Abstract The concepts of community care and primary care in UK health policy have emerged over a number of decades. This paper uses historical methods to investigate the changing definitions of community care and primary care in health policy since the 1960s. It draws on published primary and secondary sources including government documents, journals and the professional press. While policy makers have tended to separate community and primary care, the roles of the professions have tended to cut across the two sectors. The emergence and substantially separate development of the two concepts in policy and professional practice between 1960 and 1990 is described and analysed, illustrating the structural constraints on integration but noting the increasing tendency for the boundaries to be called into question. The second part of the paper examines the impact of the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act, the implementation of reforms during the 1990s and the policies currently being implemented by the Labour government. Community care and primary care have continued to be treated separately in the minds of policy makers. Policy for the former has been largely driven by governments’ concern to control social security and NHS spending, whilst primary care policy largely focused on the role of general practitioners (GPs) in implementing market reforms. The new Labour government has put renewed emphasis on public health and reducing fragmentation, stressing partnership and cooperation. But the continued dominance of general practice in primary care policy may continue to be an obstacle to the integration of community care and primary care.