This paper aims to critically examine the notion of entrepreneurship in the UK National Health Service (NHS), promoted by government ministers and senior civil servants as part of the rhetoric of the modernisation agenda.
The paper explores literature on entrepreneurship in the private and public sector and qualitative case study evidence on the emergence (and non‐emergence) of “entrepreneurs” who led the improving working lives (IWL) initiative in the UK National Health Service and discusses the issues involved.
The rhetoric serves an essentially ideological function, obscuring the real difficulty of securing effective and sustainable change, in organisations with deeply engrained power structures and as complex and intransient as the NHS in particular and health services more generally.
A “new breed of entrepreneurial leaders” may eventually appear but they face the challenge of surviving in the hierarchical NHS culture and in a climate of turbulent change created by the volatility of government policy.
The paper shows that efforts to pursue entrepreneurship in the UK NHS have to overcome obstacles involving the interplay of power, gender and language.
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