Health care systems, irrespective of how they are financed, present the paradox that to some observers they appear as a major component of social benefits, while to other observers they seem both excessively costly and limited in their effectiveness. These differing perceptions may be explained in part by the diversity of the determinants of health and disease, only some of which are amenable to those preventive or therapeutic measures encompassed in a health care system--the majority of determinants being genetic, societal, or else uninfluenced by those interventions at present available within a health service. The share of national resources which should be devoted to health care, and the method of raising resources, are primarily matters for political decision; but a national system has advantages both of economy and of comprehensiveness. But when it comes to allocation of resources within the established health budget, the knowledge and skills of health professionals are essential to informed decision-making. The possibilities depend critically on the 'state of the art' at a given time, as is illustrated by the radical changes over time in what could be done for patients with renal failure; and health professionals are likely to be most aware of current options, and of how to choose between them. More speculatively, they are also less likely to confuse the attitudes appropriate to providing a service with those required to run a business.
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