Empathy and Efficiency in Healthcare at Times of Austerity.
Efficiency is an important value for all publicly funded healthcare systems. Limited resources need to be used prudently and wisely in order to ensure best possible outcomes and waste avoidance. Since 2010, the drive for efficiency, in the UK, has acquired a new impetus, as the country embarked on an 'age of austerity' purportedly to balance its books and reduce national deficit. Although the NHS did not suffer any direct budget cuts, the austerity policies imposed on the welfare system, including social and mental healthcare, have had a direct and detrimental impact on the healthcare service. This paper draws from a qualitative study conducted in three A&E Departments in England to explore the effects of austerity policies on the everyday experiences of doctors and nurses working in Emergency Departments. It discusses the operationalisation of efficiency in A&E, in a climate of austerity, and its effects on the experiences and practices of healthcare professionals. It uses the empirical data as a springboard to highlight the role of structures and regulations, in this case targets and protocols, in how core healthcare ethical values, such as empathy, are exercised in practice. It provides an analysis of the normative role structures and regulations can play on the perception and practice of professional duties and obligations in healthcare.