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Justice and the NHS: a comment on Culyer

Abstract

The nature and significance of equity and equality in relation to health and healthcare policy is discussed in the light of a recent article by Culyer. Culyer makes the following claims: (a) the importance of equity in relation to the provision of health care derives from the human need for health in order to flourish; and (b) for the sake of equity, equality of health among the members of particular political jurisdictions should be the aim of health policy. Both these claims are challenged in this paper.

The argument put forward is that it is only when needs arise and are met in particular contexts that need and equity are fused. The state and its agents and agencies should distribute what it distributes impartially, whatever it distributes. Whether or not equity applies to the distribution of healthcare services depends on how they are provided and not on their nature as “primary goods”. Contrary to what Culyer suggests, a policy of trying to produce the outcome of health equality would be inequitable. It would not be impartial and it would fail to treat persons as persons ought to be treated.

  • NHS
  • equality
  • equity
  • health
  • justice

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