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Conference explores ethical dimension of NHS

14 March 2012

Andrew Edgar webDr Andrew Edgar

Health professionals, patients and philosophers will come together at a special conference next month to explore the moral basis of the National Health Service.

Among the questions for discussion will be: Is the NHS merely an efficient resource for the economy – repairing citizens to make them fit for work? Or is it grounded in something more compassionate?

The NHS as ‘Civil Association’ is the spring conference of the Think About Health network, and is driven by research in Cardiff University’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy. It takes place on April 13-14 at the British School of Osteopathy.

"The point of the conference is to ask whether ethics plays the part it should in both day-to-day medical practice and in the planning and reform of the health care service," explained conference organiser, Dr Andrew Edgar of Cardiff University.

"Since its conception in the 1940s, the nature and purpose of the welfare state has been interpreted in two complementary ways. On one hand, it can be seen as efficient economic practice, and on the other, as an expression of our moral commitment to fellow citizens - in the words of the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott, a ‘civil association’."

He added: "The conference is especially timely, as the England Health Care bill is focusing public and media attention on fundamental questions about the nature of the NHS.

"Our conference will in particular address the dangers that arise when instrumental or economic justifications of the NHS start to dominate."

Dr Edgar and his Cardiff colleague Dr Peter Sedgwick are among the key speakers at the conference, which also includes Dr John Gillies, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Scotland, who will compare the NHS in Scotland and England; Professor Heather Widdows, Professor of Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham; and Dr Ann Gallagher, Reader in Nursing Ethics at St George's Hospital and Kingston University.

Further information on the conference, including a booking form, is available at

Notes to editors:

  1. Think About Health is the outreach arm of a Cardiff University-led research programme, spanning two decades. It is an interdisciplinary network of professionals, users and academics that aims to improve the ‘intellectual plumbing’ of the NHS as well participants’ own thinking and practice. Think about Health involves targeted interventions that bring applied ethics to the heart of policy making, practical healthcare, patient expectations and media discussion, with the aim of influencing the capacity to explore, and take informed and mature decisions about, what really matters to us in healthcare provision.
  1. The conference is inspired by a research paper by Andrew Edgar entitled 'The NHS as Civil Association', published Michael Parker (ed.) Ethics and Community in the Health Care Professions, Routledge 1999.

3. Cardiff School of English, Communication and Philosophy
The School of English, Communication and Philosophy has a world-wide reputation as a centre for research and publication in English Literature, Language Communication, Critical and Cultural Theory and Philosophy.

Within English, Communication and Philosophy, the School has expertise across a wide range of topics, from Old Norse to post-modernism, post-colonialism and sociolinguistics. Its Philosophy staff are internationally recognised and regularly cited in fields ranging as widely as: the philosophy of health care, environmental philosophy, political philosophy, ethics, feminist philosophy, philosophy of mind, logic and epistemology, and Continental philosophy. Within the School, the Centre for Applied Ethics ( ) has led and contributed to international research projects on health care resource allocation, the treatment of the chronically ill, and the dignity of the older European. .

4. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.

Further information:

Dr Andrew Edgar

School of English

Cardiff University

Tel: 029 2087 4935


Amy Stackhouse

Public Relations

Cardiff University

Tel: 029 2087 0997