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J Med Ethics. 1991 Mar;17(1):10-8.

What future for ethical medical practice in the new National Health Service?

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  • 1Bethlem Royal Hospital, London.


The British Government is implementing some major alterations to the way health services in Great Britain are organised. As well as the introduction of competition between health care providers, their financial interests are to be linked to their output, in efforts to use market forces to increase efficiency and cut costs. This paper looks at the possible impact of these changes of health care organisation on ethical medical practice. This is investigated with particular reference to the country whose health service has embraced most closely these elements of the market--the United States of America. The question to be answered is whether high standards of ethical care are ensured by factors somehow intrinsic to the medical profession, and are therefore immune to changes in the economics of health care. This assumption is shown to be questionable in light of what is known about the determinants of ethical medical practice.

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