Whatever Is The 'Health Economy'?

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The 'health economy' is much discussed but little defined idea. Within local health-care provision it carries an assumed status which it is perhaps now time to challenge. We don't in everyday parlance between managers talk of an 'education economy'; so why a 'health economy'? Many of us would defend very strongly the concept of essential health care free at the point of delivery, but the idea of a closed specialist health economy may not be the best strategic vehicle to ensure delivery of such modern, responsive and effective health care.

There's a fair amount of excitement around the changes in the National Health Service these days. Big shifts are about to occur in the shape, goegraphical and structural, of Primary Care Trusts, Stratgeic Health Authorities and much else. And in amongst all the other deliberations there is much reference to the 'health economy'.

What is the 'health economy'?
Now is probably not the best time to go into the pluses and minuses of the strategic plans for the various strands of the NHS; feelings are running high and there's a lot to sort out yet. But it may well be a good time to ask, just what is the 'health economy'?

This is a very particular notion, and possibly not a very helpful one. In the U.K. at least it seems mostly to refer the range of business and economic activities which fall within the scope of government-led medical attention. Nonetheless, it is by no means as easy as one might imagine to find a definition of what the health economy actually is, as opposed to simply references to it in the contexts of other health-related activity. 'Health professions', 'health care' or 'health economics', yes, there are many formal references and links; but 'health economy'.... if you know of a good weblink or text book, please tell us!

A constraining concept
Perhaps it's time to stop using this term at all. With the newer ways of delivering health care (even though this is still more likely to be 'illness and medical care', rather than 'well-being and health promotion care') the interface between different types of providers is becoming more blurred. The intention of the NHS to provide essential care free at the point of delivery remains, whoever is giving it, but the economic links are of necessity becoming far more complex.

New opportunities
There are many ways in which a more fluid concept of health-related activity might widen the scope for responsive delivery. We don't hear about the 'education economy', 'arts economy' or 'science economy' as every day notions; they're all part of, for instance, a much bigger knowledge economy. Perhaps less talk of the 'health economy' will open up more visible opportunities for local social enterprise and business engagement in flexible and client-responsive health care provision; and that in turn may perhaps also help local investment and regeneration in a much broader way.

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