Four: Models of health system reform

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This chapter describes and analyses the three phases, and contrasting models, of reform of the UK NHS that have occupied governments, principally key ministers and their advisers, from 1997 up to 2015. They have been articulated by one of the last Labour government’s most influential health policy advisers, Simon Stevens, who labelled the phases as follows:

  • benign producerism

  • command and control

  • new localism.

Stevens left his position as adviser to former prime minister, Tony Blair, to take up a new post as president of United Health in Europe, a major US health care provider, which over the years has competed for work in the UK, including providing general practitioner services in parts of the country. In April 2014, Stevens returned to the UK to take over as NHS chief executive. Although his phases of reform were developed during the Labour government’s term of office, they remain relevant to the more recent changes introduced by the coalition government in 2013.

Britain is something of a market leader in health care reform, having been at it longer than most countries and with a determination and persistence not evident to quite such an extent anywhere else. One eminent commentator, Rudolf Klein, argued that although health care reform ‘has been one of the worldwide epidemics of the 1990s … Britain stands out from the rest’ (Klein 1995: 299). Moreover, since 1999, and as is described later, post-devolution Britain has created growing interest as a laboratory for the study of differences emerging in the health systems taking shape in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (Connolly et al 2010; Timmins 2013; Bevan et al 2014).

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