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Conflicting demands on a modern healthcare service: Can Rawlsian justice provide a guiding philosophy for the NHS and other socialized health services?

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We explore whether a Rawlsian approach might provide a guiding philosophy for the development of a healthcare system, in particular with regard to resolving tensions between different groups within it. We argue that an approach developed from some of Rawls' principles - using his 'veil of ignorance' and both the 'difference' and 'just savings' principles which it generates - provides a compelling basis for policy making around certain areas of conflict. We ask what policies might be made if those making them did not know if one was patient, doctor, nurse or manager - in this generation or the next. We first offer a brief summary of Rawls' approach and how we intend to extrapolate from it. We examine how this adapted Rawlsian framework could be applied to specific examples of conflict within healthcare; we demonstrate how this framework can be used to develop a healthcare service which is both sustainable (in its training and treatment of staff, and in encouraging research and innovation) and open (to protect the powers and opportunities of those using the health service). We conclude that while Rawls' approach has previously been rejected as a means to address specific healthcare decisions, an adapted veil of ignorance can be a useful tool for the consideration of how a just health service should be constructed and sustained. Turning the theoretical into the practical (and combining Rawls' thought experiment with Scanlonian contractarianism), managers, doctors, patients, carers and nurses could come together and debate conflicting issues behind a hypothetical veil.



ethics, health services, physician-patient relations, policy, social justice, Decision Making, Delivery of Health Care, Ethical Theory, Health Services Administration, National Health Programs, Policy Making, State Medicine

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Wellcome Trust (208213/Z/17/Z)
Funded by the Wellcome Trust, Grants 208213/Z/17/Z and WT100577MA