Beyond rhetorical differences

K. E. Smith, M. Hellowell

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    28 Citations (Scopus)
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    Health is perhaps the most significant policy area to be devolved to decision-makers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Consequently, there has been a great deal of interest in assessing the extent to which health policies (which already differed somewhat prior to devolution) have diverged since 1999. To date, analyses have tended to focus either on health care policies or on specific public health issues (e.g. health inequalities or tobacco control). The story that emerges from this body of work suggests health care policies have diverged significantly, whilst public health policies have remained remarkably similar. This article is one of the first to consider health care and public health policy alongside each other. It reassesses and updates previous analyses, incorporating developments relating to the 2010 general election and the 2007 and 2011 devolved administration elections. Drawing on a variety of textual sources (policy documents, research evidence and corporate literature), our findings differ from existing analyses in suggesting that, despite some noticeable differences in policy rhetoric, approaches to both health care provision and tackling public health problems remain similar. Looking to the future, the article concludes that the common economic challenges, combined with a tight fiscal policy (that remains excepted from devolution), means the similarities in health care provision across the UK are likely to remain more pronounced than the differences. However, current debate about the constitutional settlement, and in particular the prospect of greater fiscal freedoms for the devolved administrations, may provide opportunities for more meaningful divergence in health policy than has been possible hitherto.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)178-198
    Number of pages21
    JournalSocial Policy and Administration
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2012


    • devolution
    • health care
    • policy divergence
    • public health
    • UK
    • health inequalities


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