Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Measuring morbidity for resource allocation.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987; 295 doi: (Published 19 September 1987) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987;295:703
  1. N Mays
  1. Department of Community Medicine, United Medical School, Guy's Hospital, London.


    The RAWP (Resource Allocation Working Party) report used population weightings based on standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) as a proxy measure of differences in morbidity (and therefore in the need for health care resources) that existed between geographical areas after allowing for the age and sex structure of their populations. The adequacy of SMRs as a proxy for morbidity has aroused controversy, particularly from RAWP losers in London, and is one of the main themes of the National Health Service Management Board's current review of RAWP. Critics have argued, firstly, that the nature of the relation between morbidity and mortality is unknown; and, secondly, that SMRs are incomplete because they fail to take account of the effect of social deprivation on the need for health care. As a result several alternative proxies for morbidity based on social indicators have been proposed. One of their principal drawbacks is that their use is justified by their relation to measures of use of services known to be affected by the prevailing level of supply. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that mortality data actually correlate quite well with the available measures of both morbidity and social deprivation. But without access to comprehensive morbidity data the SMR debate is bound to remain inconclusive. As measures of health need, however, SMRs have the twin merits of being (a) independent of supply, and (b) more direct measures of health state than social indicators.