Primary health care, once the cornerstone of China's health system, has been neglected in the country's market-oriented system. Recent primary care reform was designed to improve access, quality and efficiency of health service use, but the results are unclear. The government is dramatically increasing funding for community health services, but there is concern about maximizing the impact of this investment. This paper draws on policy analysis, literature review, and a secondary analysis of two case studies and two surveys to review the structure of community health services and public reaction to them. Our results suggest that despite several years of primary care reform, current performance remains poor. The capacity of providers is low, services are not felt to be affordable, and patients report concerns about safety, all contributing to low utilization of community health facilities. We argue that the minimum skill set for community health service providers should be clearly defined to focus training efforts as should the role of community health facilities within the health system. Moreover, a quality and accountability framework for community health service is needed so that increased funding can produce a strong foundation for China's health system.
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