Alan Williams 1927 - 2005

Health economics: the cheerful face of the dismal science?

Alan Williams

The word we use normally to describe people who behave without regard to the costs of their actions is not ‘ethical’ but ‘fanatical’

Alan Williams was a Professor of Economics at the University of York who led the development of health economics in Britain from the late 1960s to the mid 2000s.  This web page collects together selected downloadable items in memory of his life and work.  It is hosted by the Centre for Health Economics, which Alan helped to set up in 1983.


Videos of lectures

Introduction to the Alan Williams videos by Dave Kindig, University of Wisconsin

In the fall of 1995 I was privileged to spend a 6 months sabbatical at the York University Centre for Health Economics, where I worked closely with Alan Maynard, Trevor Sheldon, and Alan Williams.  I had begin to think more deeply about what we now call population health, and felt the need for more formal grounding in health measurement and ethics than I had previously encountered.  The six months was transformative for my thinking and career and in part led to my sabbatical book "Purchasing Population Health: Paying for Results" (Univ Mich Press 1997); in the Introduction I acknowledge my debt to York and to Alan and his colleagues.

I take the objective of cost-benefit analysis to be to assist choice – not to make choice, not to justify past choice, nor yet to delay matters

In 1999 I invited Alan and June to visit us in the University Of Wisconsin School Of Medicine's Department of Population Health Sciences and its Population Health Institute, where on April 26 and 27 he gave this two day seminar, recorded then and finally reproduced here with help from James Lomas in converting the tapes to DVD and Steven Palmer in uploading them onto the web.  As background, each participant was given a copy of the 1997 Culyer and Maynard collection of his essays "Being Reasonable about the Economics of Health".  It is a deep personal pleasure to play a role with my colleagues at York to hopefully reintroduce these ideas and Alan's unique charm and wit to audiences who did not have the opportunity to know him.  His ideas and challenges are even more important now than they were then.

If someone says to me that they must have something no matter what it costs, I take them to mean that they must have it no matter what sacrifices have to be made. And it is always easier to make such statements if the costs (or sacrifices) are going to be borne by somebody else!

  1. Rationing in a need-driven system
  2. Health and QALYS 
  3. Intergenerational equity 
  4. Clinical (individual) perspectives versus policy (population) perspectives



Other initiatives

This event was dedicated to Alan Williams by its organiser, Professor Lise Rochaix, a French health economist who is a former student, friend and collaborator of Alan. The event brings together health economists from different countries and decision-makers to reflect on the actual impact of health economics research on decision-making. “Hospinnomics” is a joint initiative between Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris and the Paris School of Economics, which aims to improve hospital quality, efficiency and equity by promoting collaboration between economists and hospital decision makers in France and across the world.