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Med Hist. 2013 Jan;57(1):87-107. doi: 10.1017/mdh.2012.82.

'Searching for the people in charge': appraising the 1983 Griffiths NHS management inquiry.

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  • 1Centre for History in Public Health, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, 15-17 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SH, UK.


This is the first of two related articles in the present volume which examine the recent history of health services management using the case of the British National Health Service (NHS). In the historiography of the NHS the 1980s is widely seen as a watershed, when public policy first sought to introduce market disciplines into its operation. Administrative and managerial reforms were central to this process, and their origins and impact have been the subject of continuing debate. This article examines and evaluates one of the key events in this history, the Griffiths NHS Inquiry of 1983, which put in place the principles of 'general management' in the NHS. Drawing on both documentary records and oral evidence it offers fresh perspectives on the reasons why the Conservative government embarked on this reform, on the workings of the inquiry team under the leadership of the businessman Roy Griffiths, and on the uneven course of the implementation of his recommendations. While its initial impact arguably did not meet the expectations of its supporters, it is suggested that several of Griffiths' key concerns have grown, not diminished, in importance as aspects of subsequent health politics. These include: the need for clinician involvement in NHS management and financing; the conundrum of how to depoliticise the central direction of the service while retaining political accountability; the desirability of measuring and improving performance; and the question of how best to incorporate the wishes of patients and public in the decision-making arena.


Health Policy; Health Systems; Hospitals; NHS

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