Lean healthcare: rhetoric, ritual and resistance

Soc Sci Med. 2010 Oct;71(7):1332-1340. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.06.028. Epub 2010 Jul 13.


This paper presents an ethnographic account of the implementation of Lean service redesign methodologies in one UK NHS hospital operating department. It is suggested that this popular management 'technology', with its emphasis on creating value streams and reducing waste, has the potential to transform the social organisation of healthcare work. The paper locates Lean healthcare within wider debates related to the standardisation of clinical practice, the re-configuration of occupational boundaries and the stratification of clinical communities. Drawing on the 'technologies-in-practice' perspective the study is attentive to the interaction of both the intent to transform work and the response of clinicians to this intent as an ongoing and situated social practice. In developing this analysis this article explores three dimensions of social practice to consider the way Lean is interpreted and articulated (rhetoric), enacted in social practice (ritual), and experienced in the context of prevailing lines of power (resistance). Through these interlinked analytical lenses the paper suggests the interaction of Lean and clinical practice remains contingent and open to negotiation. In particular, Lean follows in a line of service improvements that bring to the fore tensions between clinicians and service leaders around the social organisation of healthcare work. The paper concludes that Lean might not be the easy remedy for making both efficiency and effectiveness improvements in healthcare.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Efficiency, Organizational*
  • Hospital Administration / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Organizational Innovation
  • State Medicine
  • Surgery Department, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • United Kingdom