Once again the National Health Service (NHS) in England is undergoing major reform, following the election of a new coalition government keen to reduce the role of the state and cut back on big government. The NHS has been undergoing continuous reform since the 1980s. Yet, despite the significant transaction costs incurred, there is no evidence that the claimed benefits have been achieved. Many of the same problems endure. The reforms follow the direction of change laid down by the last Conservative government in the early 1990s, which the recent Labour government did not overturn despite a commitment to do so. Indeed, under Labour, the NHS was subjected to further market-style changes that have paved the way for the latest round of reform. The article considers the appeal of big bang reform, questions its purpose and value, and critically appraises the nature and extent of the proposed changes in this latest round of reform. It warns that the NHS in its current form may not survive the changes, as they open the way to privatization and a weakening of its public service ethos.
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