Between Equity and Local Autonomy : A Governance Dilemma in Swedish Healthcare

Sammanfattning: Both national equity in healthcare and the county councils’ local autonomy are important values supported by Swedish law. Politically it is a balancing act; how much freedom should the county councils have and to what extent should healthcare be equal throughout the country? The general aim of this dissertation, concerning political governance in Swedish healthcare, is to investigate the tensional values of national equity and local autonomy in the light of current trends in healthcare governance in Sweden. How is this tension manifested? Four studies are included in the dissertation. These studies show that the Swedish state is becoming more active in governing and regulating healthcare, for example by the use of informative governance and legislation, which increasingly rely on monitoring and evaluation of results that are made public. The findings show that the tension between national equity and local autonomy is manifested in increasing emphasis on national equity – or rather national equivalence – which is interpreted in terms of Swedish healthcare being recentralized. Delivery and financing of healthcare are still the responsibilities of the county councils. Planning and arranging – the setting of the regulatory framework – is increasingly taken over by the central state. Although power seems to be transferred from local level to central level, the county councils’ autonomy is only partially restricted, which means Swedish healthcare is still decentralized. However, if the recentralization process proceeds further, the county councils´ autonomy may be seriously challenged. Another challenge is to maintain or strengthen the procedures for democratic legitimacy through citizen participation at the local level. When local autonomy looses ground, it becomes more difficult to tailor healthcare according to local needs and conditions in the county councils, and decisions are taken at greater distance from the citizens.