Primary Care Groups and NHS Rationing: Implications of the Child B Case
Health Care Analysis: An International Journal of Health Care Philosophy and Policy 1999; 7(1): 37-56
Implementing The new NHS and the 1997 NHS (Primary Care) Act will gradually extend cash-limiting into primary health care, especially general practice. UK policy-makers have avoided providing clear, unambivalent direction about how to 'ration' NHS resources. The 'Child B' case became an epitome of public debate about NHS rationing. Among many other decision-making processes which occurred, Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Authority applied an ethical code to this rationing decision. Using new data this paper analyses the rationing criteria NHS managers and clinicians used at local level in the Child B case; and the organisational structures which confronted them with such decisions. Primary Care Groups are likely to confront similar rationing decisions in respect of 'gate-kept' NHS services. However, such rationing processes are not so easily transposed to open-access services such as general practice. NHS rationing decisions, especially in PCGs, will require a much more specific ethical code than hitherto used.