Some definitions of need for health care as a basis of planning health services are discussed. A model proposed by Donabedian (1974) relating need to resources is used to consider the problems faced by the Resource Allocation Working Party (RAWP) (Department of Health and Social Security, 1976). The paper concludes that need should be defined in relation to the procedures available to meet it and the resources that permit those procedures to be used. The procedures include the whole gamut of prevention and screening, cure and care, research and development. This necessarily raises moral and ethical issues which stretch beyond the limits of medicine and concern patients, their relatives, and the public in general. Neither the medical profession nor the lay public can be expected to help define need for health care unless they understand the underlying issues. This is a challenge to those responsible for professional and public education.
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