Primary care in the UK: understanding the dynamics of devolution
The United Kingdom is ostensibly one country and yet public policy often varies between its constituent territories – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Health policy illustrates the dilemmas inherent in an apparently unitary system that permits scope for territorial variation. Administrative devolution has now been accompanied by political devolution but their interaction has yet to produce policy outcomes. This paper describes recent health policy reform with regard to primary care in terms of the tension inherent in current policy between notions of a ‘one nation NHS’ and the territorial diversity wrought by devolution. The paper provides a framework for understanding the emergent outcomes by exploring various concepts. In particular, the existing character of territorial policy networks, the properties of policies in devolved territories and intergovernmental relations are considered from various disciplines to examine whether greater diversity or uniformity will result from the dual reform process. Whilst this evaluation can, at this stage, only be preliminary, the paper provides a framework to appraise the emerging impact of devolution upon primary care in the UK.