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CMAJ. 1997 Mar 15;156(6):817-23.

Devolving authority for health care in Canada's provinces: 4. Emerging issues and prospects.

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Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont.


Devolution or authority for health care is evaluated in the context of 3 objectives of provincial governments--community empowerment to garner new allies for health care restructuring, service integration to create a true "system" and conflict containment as spending is cut. Devolved authorities cannot pursue each of these objectives with equal vigour because they must balance the competing pressures from their provincial government, their providers and their local citizens. Each devolved authority accommodates these pressures in its own way, through different trade-offs. Appointed board members are generally well intentioned in representing the interests of their entire community but are unlikely to overcome formidable barriers to community empowerment in health care. Unless future board elections attract large and representative voter turnouts, they may fragment board members' accountability (by making them more accountable to multiple interest groups) rather than solidify it (by making them more accountable to the community). Although boards have integrated and rationalized parts of the institutional sector, integration of the community sector is hampered by structural constraints such as the lack of budgetary authority for a broader scope of services, including physicians' fees and drugs. Devolved authorities will deflect blame from provincial governments and contain conflict only while they believe that there is still slack in the system and that efficiency can be improved. When boards no longer perceive this, they are likely to add their voices to local discontent with fiscal retrenchment. Continuing evaluation and periodic meetings of authorities to share experiences and encourage cross-jurisdictional policy learning are needed.

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