Ethics have long been recognized as underpinning primary health care. While discrete understandings of ethics have developed to support many areas of health care and research, there has been little attempt to formulate an ethics framework which is focused on primary health care. Developments both within and external to primary health care practice make it timely to address primary health care ethics; in particular, government initiatives contained in Shifting the Balance of Power, the increasing emphasis on evidence based practice, and the greater recognition of patient rights within English law resulting from the Human Rights Act 1998. A starting point to formulating an ethics framework would be to define the domain of primary health care. We can then identify those areas particular to primary health care which raise issues of conflict and change and which would benefit from ethics guidance.
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