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Purchasing power and polarized professionalism in British medicine

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Fundholding (the opportunity to hold a budget at practice level) has given general practitioners (GPs) purchasing power for medical services within the reformed UK National Health Service (NHS). This new purchasing power equates to financial leverage with the NHS consultants in hospitals. Argues that fundholding is presented as an opportunity for GPs to engage in a "turf battle" with the hospital consultants without this battle becoming publicly visible. Fundholding as an accounting-based intervention masked the nature of the professional challenge which GPs launched against the consultants and, hence, allowed territorial claims to be renegotiated through the medium of contracting. This circumvented the damage to medical professional ideologies which would have ensued if intra-professional conflicts had become overt. The empirical study which is referred to indicates that GPs are using contracts to improve processes of case management at the hospital interface (an area where consultants have failed to communicate with GPs) and to have an input into the setting of quality standards within the hospitals. The increased financial flexibility conferred through holding budgets is also enabling GPs to expand in-house services for primary care. Theorizes the changing power relations between GPs and consultants through exploring four dimensions of intra-professional differentiation: task specialization; client differentiation; organization of work; and career pattern. Concludes that budgets have constituted a catalyst for professional development through reconnecting the monetary bonds between the polarized professionals in British medicine. This study indicates that, as fundholding progresses, the boundary between primary and secondary care is becoming blurred; that lead fundholding GPs are being managerialized; and that the purchasing dialogue between the GPs and the Trusts is marginalizing the role of the Health Boards (bodies which had previously held sole responsibility for the co-ordination and delivery of health care but which now have a more limited purchasing/commissioning role).

Keywords: Contracts; Doctors; Financial Management; Health Care; Professionalism; United Kingdom

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 1997


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