Constructing notions of healthcare productivity: the call for a new professionalism?
Improving performance is an imperative for most healthcare systems in industrialised countries. This article considers one such system, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Recent NHS reforms and strategies have advocated improved healthcare productivity as a fundamental objective of policy and professional work. This article explores the construction of productivity in contemporary NHS discourse, analysing it via the Foucauldian concept of governmentality. In this manner it is possible to investigate claims that the commodification of health work constitutes a threat to autonomy, and counter that with an alternative view from a perspective of neoliberal self-governance. Contemporary policy documents pertaining to NHS productivity were analysed using discourse analysis to examine the way in which productivity was framed and how responsibility for inefficient resource use, and possible solutions, were constructed. Data reveals the notion of productivity as problematic, with professionals as key protagonists. A common narrative identifies traditional NHS command/control principles as having failed to engage professionals or having been actively obstructed by them. In contrast, new productivity narratives are framed as direct appeals to professionalism. These new narratives do not support deprofessionalisation, but rather reconstruct responsibilities, what might be called ‘new professionalism’, in which productivity is identified as an individualised professional duty.
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