Labour's health policy: the conflict between the two main parties is now over means not ends

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Author: Rudolf Klein
Date: Feb. 29, 1992
From: British Medical Journal(Vol. 304, Issue 6826)
Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.
Document Type: Editorial
Length: 1,209 words

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The conflict between the two main parties is now over means not ends

The irony of the past decade is that the political debate about health policy has been marked by both growing acrimony and the emergence of a new consensus. The conflict has been about policy means: never in the history of the NHS has disagreement about how the NHS should be organised been sharper. The consensus has been about policy aims: a new agenda has evolved, to which all parties now subscribe. The elements of the new consensus are clear enough. They have a new emphasis on positive policies for health promotion, on shifting the balance from secondary to primary care, and on giving patients more rights. It is this agenda that shapes the Labour party's new health policy documents, Your Good Health,[1] just as it has shaped the Conservative government's strategy.[2] Perhaps the most instructive way of reading the Labour document, in search of enlightenment about what a change of government might bring, is to ask how the chosen policy instruments match the policy aims.

Consider, first, the Labour party's policies for health promotion. Here, clearly, there is common ground between the parties: the government is in the process of hammering out its own strategies.[3] Labour's proposals are, in key respects, more specific. There is a pledge, for example, to ban tobacco advertising and to create a new right to a smoke free environment at work. There is a proposal to create a cabinet committee to coordinate all aspects of government policy on health. This symbolically underlines the recognition, permeating the whole document, that improving health entails dealing with the social and economic conditions that cause disease and disability. There can be no doubt about the commitment on this, as against achieving alternative policy objectives such as cutting taxes....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A12009664