Planes, straws and oysters: the use of metaphors in healthcare reform

Ross Millar, Helen Dickinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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PURPOSE: The purpose of the paper is to examine the metaphors used by senior managers and clinicians in the delivery of healthcare reform.

DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH: A study of healthcare reform in England carried out a series of semi structured interviews with senior managers and clinicians leading primary and secondary care organisations. Qualitative data analysis examines instances where metaphorical language is used to communicate how particular policy reforms are experienced and the implications these reforms have for organisational contexts.

FINDINGS: The findings show how metaphorical language is used to explain the interactions between policy reform and organisational contexts. Metaphors are used to illustrate both the challenges and opportunities associated with the reform proposals for organisational change.

ORIGINALITY/VALUE: The authors provide the first systematic study of patterns and meanings of metaphors within English healthcare contexts and beyond. The authors argue that these metaphors provide important examples of "generative" dialogue in their illustration of the opportunities associated with reform. Conversely, these metaphors also provide examples of "degenerative" dialogue in their illustration of a demarcation between the reform policy proposals and existing organisational contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-132
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Health, Organization and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2016


  • Policy
  • Language
  • Organizational change
  • Metaphor
  • Healthcare reform


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