Observations Life and Death

Words are all we have

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7166 (Published 09 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7166
  1. Iona Heath, president, Royal College of General Practitioners
  1. iona.heath22{at}yahoo.co.uk

The changing language of healthcare reflects the seismic shift from the logic of public interest to that of private gain, says Iona Heath, writing in a personal capacity

In his 1998 novel The Time of Light the Norwegian writer Gunnar Kopperud noted that “a railway station mirrors the soul of the place where it’s located.” Perhaps in the same way a health service reflects the soul of the society it serves. If so, this could be bad news for the health service of a society in which the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider and where there seems to be a steadily eroding commitment to an inclusive social contract.

In his Whitehall Watch blog, Colin Talbot, professor of public policy and management at Manchester Business School, argues that all organisations are to some degree “public” and that they are all also to some degree “private.” It follows, he says, that “there is always some ‘grey’ in statements about ‘public’ and ‘private’ organisations” (whitehallwatch.org/2011/09/22/universities-and-the-logic-of-public-interest). Talbot takes UK universities as paradigmatic examples of this twilight zone, but his arguments must also apply to health services, such as that in England, …

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