Background: Life expectancy of people with severe mental illness (SMI) is greatly shortened compared to the general population, and despite extensive research, this issue is unsolved. Although it is widely recognised that people with SMI need support from health care services to manage health related issues, profound health inequalities exist within provision of health care. The aim of this study was to examine how mental health care professionals accounted for their actions and responsibilities related to managing physical health issues among people with SMI. Methods: Three focus groups were conducted with 22 mental health care professionals, employed at three mental health care locations. Participants' situated accounts were subjected to discourse analysis. Results: Participants accounted for actions and responsibilities in three typical ways; 1) by positioning people with SMI as difficult to motivate and actively resisting intervention, 2) by positioning people with SMI as so impaired that intervention was futile, and 3) by arguing they are undertreated for physical conditions and might have physical illnesses that staff are not aware of because of prominent mental illness. These discursive strategies seemed to legitimise situations where participants described not responding to physical health issues, and to downplay potential trouble in situations where participants described not succeeding in facilitating lifestyle changes or promoting compliance to treatment of physical conditions. Discussion and conclusion: Mental health care professionals need to increase their awareness of latent discriminating attitudes towards people with SMI. Such attitudes are suggested to reinforce barriers for people with SMI receiving physical health care.