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Background A key element within the programme of reform introduced into the UK National Health Service in the 1990s has been the concept of health needs assessment, which must be undertaken by health care purchasers as a guide to the planning process. As part of a wide-ranging study of the impact of the NHS reforms on hospices and specialist palliative care services, providers' perceptions of needs assessment for palliative care were examined, including the extent to which needs assessments had been carried out in local districts, together with the implications. Methods The study comprised two key elements. In spring 1995 a postal survey was conducted among all UK hospices and specialist palliative care in-patient units (n = 203) eliciting factual information concerning needs assessment and contracting, together with perceptions and evaluations of the local impact of the NHS reforms. A total of 128 (63 per cent) questionnaires was completed and returned. In addition to the survey, 12 case studies were conducted with a stratified random sample of NHS, independent and large or small hospices and specialist palliative care units. Each of the 12 case study sites was visited by a member of the research team, who conducted interviews with senior staff and analysed financial, planning and management data. Thus the survey allowed a wide analysis of the impact of the NHS reforms, which was enhanced by the more in-depth qualitative data gathered from the case studies. Results In the survey 49 per cent of those responding reported that their main purchaser had conducted a needs assessment for palliative care in the last five years. Palliative care needs assessment was seen as valuable by providers: 73 per cent considered it very important and 28 per cent of hospices had gone so far as to request a needs assessment from their health authority. In an open-ended question seeking views on the impact of health needs assessment, 66 per cent of those responding (71/107) stated that the impact had been or would be positive. The case studies, however, revealed a more mixed picture. The 12 hospices or specialist palliative care units had contracts with a total of 24 health authorities, 12 of which had conducted some type of needs assessment for palliative care. On close examination the comprehensiveness of these was questionable. Few providers had participated in the design and there were low levels of knowledge about the findings. High expectations of the value of needs assessment were often not fulfilled. There was also a tendency for providers to view needs assessment in a purely instrumental light, as a vehicle to further promote their own interests. Conclusions Palliative care needs assessment has considerable potential to influence future purchasing and service provision, yet not all health commissions are undertaking it. There is a high level of provider enthusiasm for palliative care needs assessment, albeit coupled to low levels of technical knowledge and a lack of involvement in the process at local level. Purchaser-provider dialogue on needs assessment should focus on both raising awareness of appropriate techniques and debating ‘ethical neutrality’ about the outcome.
|Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:||Clark, Professor David|
|Authors:||Clark, D., Malson, H., Small, N., Daniel, T., and Mallett, K.|
|College/School:||College of Social Sciences > School of Interdisciplinary Studies|
|Journal Name:||Journal of Public Health Medicine|
|Publisher:||Oxford University Press|
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