The National Health Service reforms as an electoral issue in the United Kingdom. Academic Article uri icon


  • The implementation of National Health Service (NHS) reforms left the Conservative Government with a major electoral problem. As Britain approached the 1992 general election, opinion polls revealed a popular perception that the Conservatives were planning to privatise the NHS. This perception was both fuelled and acted upon by the Labour Opposition which, at its 1991 annual conference, signalled its intention to make the health service a major item on the electoral agenda. In this article several issues associated with popular perceptions of the health reforms are explored including increased levels of copayment, the language of commerce, entrepreneurial activities within the NHS, and 'opting out'. The ways in which the Labour Party sought to place health on the electoral agenda are examined, together with the response of the government. Labour sought to portray the reforms as creeping privatisation while the Conservatives dismissed this as a crude propaganda ploy and have stressed their commitment to a more effective NHS. It is argued that the British experience exemplifies the perennial problems for any government seeking to introduce substantive changes to a national health system in a partisan political environment: the need to explain changes and legitimize them, and the danger that reforms will be politicized by an opposition eager for issues with immediate popular impact.

publication date

  • January 1, 1993