The Ethics of Health Economics

The ethics of Healthcare is about 2000 years ahead of the ethics of Health Economics! All doctors in the UK take an amended Hippocratic oath when we qualify, in which we promise to:

 

  • Do no harm
  • Prioritise the patient
  • Treat the whole person, not just the symptom
  • Obtain prior informed consent
  • Call on the expertise of others when needed

 

We also have our ethical code:

 

  • Benficence – i.e. seek to do good
  • Non-maleficence – i.e. don’t deliberately do harm
  • Justice i.e. treat everyone equally
  • Autonomy – i.e. respect the wishes of your patient

 

Kate Raworth argues in her simply marvellous book, Doughnut economics (in the Chapter “Get Savvy With Systems”), that the discipline of Economics simply does not have any such moral or ethical code. In fact, as George Di Martino puts it, “it is entirely cavalier regarding its responsibilities”. But in a world, based on theories (most of which are entirely outdated and impotent in solving the global issues we face today), it is vital that an ethical code is written on which economic decisions can be based. She makes the following suggestions:

 

  • Act in service to human prosperity in a flourishing web of life, recognising all that it depends upon.
  • Respect autonomy in the communities that you serve, ensuring their engagement and consent.
  • Be prudential in policy making, seeking to minimise the risk of harm -especially to the most vulnerable – in the face of uncertainty.
  • Work with humility, by making transparent the assumptions and shortcomings of your models and by recognising alternative economic perspectives and tools.

 

In some ways, I think you could take the ethical code of the medical world and simply apply it that of economics, but the four principles above give us a good starting framework.

 

The reason I want to explore this whole idea and will give some further blogs to this area of health economics is that, to my mind, it is ludicrous to be talking about ‘reimagining health’, if we are not also in the same breath ‘reimagining health economics’ or indeed ‘reimagining economics’. Much of what is happening within the world of health and social care at the moment is being driven by an economic model that lacks a moral compass or an ethical frame work. It is high time that this changed! Decisions made about how a health and social care system is organised and governed hugely impacts on how that health and social care is subsequently delivered. We cannot afford to separate our ethical principles from our commissioning strategies. There must be far more synergy between the two.

 

I love this quote from Donella Meadows:

 

“The future can’t be predicted, but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being. Systems can’t be controlled, but they can be designed and redesigned (emphasis mine). We can listen to what the whole system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than can ever be produced by our will alone”.

 

Plenty to think about there!

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NHS or IHS?

The commonwealth fund (an influential US think tank) recently declared the NHS to be the best healthcare system in the world, for the second year running!

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/14/nhs-holds-on-to-top-spot-in-healthcare-survey

 

Many think of the NHS as the Jewel in the UK Crown, more popular, as it is, then our own Royal Family. Andrew Street (professor of Health Economics at York) tells us why, and compares it to the US Insurance-based System:

http://theconversation.com/why-the-british-love-the-national-health-service-66314

 

We spend less of our GDP, per head of population, than almost any other developed nation and yet continue to have the best service there is.  It clearly is not unaffordable. It is something to be extremely grateful for! Why on earth would you spend over 18% of your GDP on health, as our friends in the US do, and still not be able to provide great health care for every person in your nation, no matter of their ability to pay? I do not understand why the NHS (or any “social model” of healthcare) is vilified from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, when it is the most cost effective and clinically safe health system that there is anywhere in the world.

 

So, I’ve been wondering – why keep it to ourselves? Why just stop at a National Health Service? Why not go International (but not in an awful old-school Imperial Way, but rather a life-giving, loving kind of a way?). We have some of the best public health knowledge there is. We are learning to work creatively and differently with our population for prevention of illness and self-care. We know how to manage complex systems and budgets and we are able to adapt to new challenges relatively quickly. We know what it is to limit our spending and not allow it to get out of control and we know how to regulate corporate giants who would love to turn it into a profit-making machine.

 

The issues of global justice, when it comes to healthcare are insane. We keep talking about wanting to ‘lead the world’. Well – that old style of imperial dominance is thankfully dead and buried and will never be recovered. But we can humbly offer what we do know onto the table and see if we could all learn together about how to have a more globally just health care system. Why stop at the NHS? Why be satisfied with only a National Health Service? Let’s stop wasting time, money and resource on space exploration, projects which destroy the environment and building ridiculous weapons. Instead, let’s imagine a world with an International Health System in which we really get to grips with the kind of issues that are needlessly destroying millions of human lives every year. The possibilities of an IHS are endless and there are multiple ways it could be stewarded. If every nation contributed 8.9% of its own GDP towards it (as we do in the UK), I wonder just what might be possible and how much more connected we might become as a family of nations. Do we still dare to dream these days?

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Perspective

Tweet Earlier this week I wrote another blog about the health inequalities we face in the North, compared to the South. Then I spent some time with a good friend of mine, who has spent much of his life in other countries. In what I’m about to write, I’m not negating the injustice that exists [Continue Reading …]

Don’t Mind The Gap – Address It!

Tweet So, here it is in black and white: the health gap between the north and south is getting wider, and in fact it is now the worst it has been in over 50 years!   https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/aug/08/alarming-rise-in-early-deaths-of-young-adults-in-the-north-of-england-study?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-4770286/Death-records-growing-north-south-divide-study-finds.html?ito=email_share_article-top   I’ve blogged about this on here before, but the figures from this latest study are utterly stark: [Continue Reading …]

What Next for General Practice?

Tweet Last week, I had a sixth form student spend the week with me. She is hoping to go to medical school and is gaining the necessary work experience ahead of her applications. It was so great to be able to share with her the variance of my work and the great privilege it is [Continue Reading …]

The Rules of Engagement

Tweet I am increasingly concerned by the use of the word “customer” to describe people who use the NHS and social services. I hear it often in meetings and it is, in my opinion really dangerous. It is dangerous for 2 reasons: firstly, it assumes that people “buy” services, which they do not (because our [Continue Reading …]