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The Government of Health Care and the Politics of Patient Empowerment: New Labour and the NHS Reform Agenda in England

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Abstract:

This article considers the issue of patient empowerment in the context of New Labour's proposed reforms to the National Health Service (NHS) in England. Through an exploration of some of the key measures in the government's white paper High Quality Care for All, the article argues for a conceptualization of patient empowerment as a political technique of governing. Patient empowerment, it is contended, can no longer be understood solely as a quantitative phenomenon to be balanced within the doctor-patient relationship. Rather, its deployment by the government as a way of governing health and health care more broadly demands that we consider what political functions—including, importantly, it is argued here, managing the problem of the increasing cost of illness and health care—patient empowerment may be involved in performing. In order to assist in this enquiry, the article draws on some of Michel Foucault's work on the art of governing. It is suggested that his understanding of the neoliberal mode of governing best captures the proposed changes to the NHS and the role patient empowerment plays in their implementation.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9930.2010.00321.x

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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