Health care management autonomy: Evidence from the Catalonian hospital sector in a decentralised Spain
The organisation of inpatient care provision has undergone significant reform in many southern European countries. Overall across Europe, public management is moving towards the introduction of more flexibility and autonomy . In this setting, the promotion of the further decentralisation of health care provision stands out as a key salient policy option in all countries that have hitherto had a traditionally centralised structure. Yet, the success of the underlying incentives that decentralised structures create relies on the institutional design at the organisational level, especially in respect of achieving efficiency and promoting policy innovation without harming the essential principle of ‘equal access for equal need’ that grounds National Health Systems (NHS). This paper explores some of the specific organisational developments of decentralisation structures drawing from the Spanish experience, and particularly those in the Catalonia. This experience provides some evidence of the extent to which organisation decentralisation structures that expand levels of autonomy and flexibility lead to organisational innovation while promoting activity and efficiency. In addition to this pure ‘managerial decentralisation’ process, Spain is of particular interest as a result of the specific regional NHS decentralisation that started in the early 1980’s and was completed in 2002 when all seventeen autonomous communities that make up the country had responsibility for health care services. Already there is some evidence to suggest that this process of decentralisation has been accompanied by a degree of policy innovation and informal regional cooperation. Indeed, the Spanish experience is relevant because both institutional changes took place, namely managerial decentralisation – leading to higher flexibility and autonomy- alongside an increasing political decentralisation at the regional level. The coincidence of both processes could potentially explain why some organisation and policy innovation resulting from policy experimentation at the regional level might be an additional feature to take into account when examining the benefits of decentralisation.
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