Introducing the Centre for Health and the Public Interest

A new online think tank, the Centre for Health and the Public Interest, has just launched. It aims to make the practical and intellectual case for a radical change of course from the market solutions currently proffered to the English NHS.

Sally Ruane
29 May 2013

The Centre for Health and the Public Interest is a new online think-tank. Its aim is to re-balance the public debate around health, health care and social care. The shift in policy over recent decades towards markets and competition desperately requires more scrutiny and challenge.

Over time, health and social care policy has become dominated by a narrow range of ideas and a narrow range of interests to the exclusion of the wider public, and so the Centre - or CHPI - will seek to champion the public interest in its work, including examining transparency and accountability in health policy making.

The Centre hopes to channel the work and ideas of a network health and social care policy experts into both the political and the public arena. We aim to present research, analysis and ideas in a way which is comprehensible to policy makers, journalists and interested members of the public.

Markets in health care have been subjected to extensive criticism. However it is possible to gain the impression from some coverage that criticism arises only from the self-interested – from professionals seeking to retain privileges or from local people selfishly or ignorantly, we are told, hanging onto valued local services. Criticism of market policies goes beyond worried professionals and concerned campaigners. Many academics and other experts are strongly critical of many of the policies of recent years – of the idea that patients want a supermarket model of choice for their health care; of the idea that competition necessarily produces better health outcomes; of the idea that markets save money.

The lack of balance in the health debate arises not from a lack of criticism. It arises from the insufficient voice given to serious analysis which questions government policy and to different ways of thinking about health. The Centre’s experts will therefore be producing papers and related coverage on a range of topics which we believe are of interest to policy makers and the wider public. Our key task is to get these ideas circulated, noticed and discussed in the arenas where health and social care policy is now made.

The Centre doesn’t have a ‘line’– our different contributors will offer different perspectives. However, we do have a clear set of ideas. We believe that the wider determinants of health are as important as health care in improving health outcomes. It concerns us that the socio-economic causes of ill-health are often eclipsed in the minds of policy makers by shorter-term agendas. This is not to say that health and social care services are not important for people’s health. We believe that good quality health care should be available to all on the basis of need and not on the basis of ability to pay and that the care that is provided should be democratically determined and accountable. We also believe that social care and health care should be thought about together.

Lip service is too often paid to these ideas, but getting them properly heard and respected will require strict attention to evidence and considered objectivity in interpreting it. This does not mean that the Centre’s publications will be passionless and dry. But they must be carefully argued and they should be accessible to anyone seriously interested in health policy.

For the time being CHPI will rely on the free contributions of health policy experts who share its aims. It will share its research with other organisations like OurNHS. It aims to publish reports on specific policy issues roughly every two months, as well as analyses, commentaries and blogs by reputed commentators. The Centre is also developing an online library of key health policy documents for students and other interested parties. Through the website we invite responses to all our publications. We would like it to become a hub for the exchange of information and ideas between everyone who wants to see the public interest reinstated as the central reference point of health and social care policy.

Although CHPI’s principle aim is to make a direct impact on policy, it also hopes to help reframe public discussion, challenging the financial and human costs of markets in health and social care and the health problems arising from economic inequality. The fact that Scotland and Wales have rejected the market route in health care provision demonstrates that an alternative approach to health care based on a different set of principles is possible. There is no time to be lost in making the practical and intellectual case for a radical change of course in England, and this is what CHPI will try hard to do.

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