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Rationing health care: Views from general practice


  • Ayres, Philip J.


General practitioners (GPs) in the United Kingdom are central to the commissioning of health care services. A qualitative study of their views was therefore designed, which incorporated an in-depth (open) interview technique carried out on a 20% sample of all GPs (n = 100) in one United Kingdom Health District. The data from these interviews indicated that GPs were aware of, but had mixed feelings about the need for rationing. They expressed disquiet about the dilemma faced in rationing health care at the time of the consultation and readily associated issues of cost in their practice with rationing. Some of the currently adopted methods of rationing (waiting lists, co-payments and ability to pay) were commented upon. The respondents also made suggestions on how rationing could be carried out, which included: maximizing efficiency to reduce the need for rationing; using a third party committee to make rationing decisions, with a membership of clinicians, managers, and possibly public representatives, and; being explicit about how rationing is done. Fundholding brought rationing decisions to the fore, and worried most who discussed it in the context of rationing. The conclusion of this paper is that current implicit rationing policies in the National Health Service are flawed as they assume that GPs will ration health care at the time of the consultation. The involvement of GPs in the rationing process is important (particularly given the present expansion of GP fundholding), so there is a need for an alternative to the present system.

Suggested Citation

  • Ayres, Philip J., 1996. "Rationing health care: Views from general practice," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 42(7), pages 1021-1025, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:42:y:1996:i:7:p:1021-1025

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    Cited by:

    1. Carlsen, Benedicte & Nyborg, Karine, 2017. "Healer or Gatekeeper? Physicians' Role Conflict When Symptoms Are Non-Verifiable," IZA Discussion Papers 10735, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Hilke Brockmann, 2000. "Why is health treatment for the elderly less expensive than for the rest of the population? Health care rationing in Germany," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2000-001, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
    3. Whynes, David K. & Ennew, Christine T. & Feighan, Teresa, 1999. "Entrepreneurial attitudes of primary health care physicians in the United Kingdom," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 331-347, March.
    4. Carlsen, Benedicte & Nyborg, Karine, 2009. "The Gate is Open: Primary Care Physicians as Social Security Gatekeepers," Memorandum 07/2009, Oslo University, Department of Economics.
    5. Joanna Coast, 2001. "Citizens, their agents and health care rationing: an exploratory study using qualitative methods," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 10(2), pages 159-174.
    6. Owen-Smith, Amanda & Donovan, Jenny & Coast, Joanna, 2015. "How clinical rationing works in practice: A case study of morbid obesity surgery," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 147(C), pages 288-295.


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