Objectives: To compare geographical inequality in the distribution of general practitioners (GPs), other resources and mortality around 1995 in England and Wales; to measure trends between 1974 and 1995 in inequality of GP distribution; to examine the implications of different need adjustments and inequality measures on the degree of geographic inequality; and to analyse the impact of policies (increased supply, area inducements and entry regulation) on inequality.
Methods: Measurement of relative inequality (decile ratio, Gini coefficient, Atkinson index) and absolute inequality (standard deviation) in the ratio of GPs to need-adjusted population in former Family Practitioner Committee/Family Health Services Authority areas each year from 1974 to 1995; and relative inequality across areas in the distributions of income, other resources and standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) around 1995. Regression of 1995 GP/population ratios on 1974 ratios. Application of equalising net advantages location model to GP distribution.
Results: Inequality in the distribution of GPs in 1995 was less than inequality in other primary care resources, but greater than inequalities in disposable income, SMRs, primary school expenditure, and hospital and community health services expenditure. The decile ratio shows little change between 1974 and 1995. Gini and Atkinson inequality indices indicate some reduction in inequality between 1974 and 1980, but little change thereafter. The standard deviation of need-adjusted provision increased over the period. Areas that had the lowest GP provision in 1974 tended to have the lowest in 1995.
Conclusions: The choice between relative and absolute inequality measures and, to a lesser extent, the method of adjusting for need affect conclusions about the trend in inequality. Both types of measure and most need adjustments suggest that the policies adopted did not lead to a reduction in inequality over the period. Interactions between policies may reduce their overall effectiveness.