Effects of the Blair/Brown NHS reforms on socioeconomic equity in health care

Richard Cookson, Mauro Laudicella, Paolo Li Donni, Mark Dusheiko

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The central objectives of the 'Blair/Brown' reforms of the English NHS in the 2000s were to reduce hospital waiting times and improve the quality of care. However, critics raised concerns that the choice and competition elements of reform might undermine socioeconomic equity in health care. By contrast, the architects of reform predicted that accelerated growth in NHS spending combined with increased patient choice of hospital would enhance equity for poorer patients. This paper draws together and discusses the findings of three large-scale national studies designed to shed empirical light on this issue. Study one developed methods for monitoring change in neighbourhood level socioeconomic equity in the utilization of health care, and found no substantial change in equity between 2001-02 and 2008-09 for non-emergency hospital admissions, outpatient admissions (from 2004-05) and a basket of specific hospital procedures (hip replacement, senile cataract, gastroscopy and coronary revascularization). Study two found that increased competition between 2003-04 and 2008-09 had no substantial effect on socioeconomic equity in health care. Study three found that potential incentives for public hospitals to select against socioeconomically-disadvantaged hip replacement patients were small, compared with incentives to select against elderly and co-morbid patients. Taken together, these findings suggest that the Blair/Brown reforms had little effect on socioeconomic equity in health care. This may be because the 'dose' of competition was small and most hospital services continued to be provided by public hospitals which did not face strong incentives to select against socioeconomically-disadvantaged patients. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy Vol 17 Suppl 1, 2012: 55-63 (C) The Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd 2012

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-63
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Health Services Research & Policy
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012

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