Background: This is the ninth in a series of papers reporting a program of Sustainability in Health care by Allocating Resources Effectively (SHARE) in a local healthcare setting. The disinvestment literature has broadened considerably over the past decade; however there is a significant gap regarding systematic, integrated, organisation-wide approaches. This debate paper presents a discussion of the conceptual aspects of disinvestment from the local perspective. Discussion: Four themes are discussed: Terminology and concepts, Motivation and purpose, Relationships with other healthcare improvement paradigms, and Challenges to disinvestment. There are multiple definitions for disinvestment, multiple concepts underpin the definitions and multiple alternative terms convey these concepts; some definitions overlap and some are mutually exclusive; and there are systematic discrepancies in use between the research and practice settings. Many authors suggest that the term 'disinvestment' should be avoided due to perceived negative connotations and propose that the concept be considered alongside investment in the context of all resource allocation decisions and approached from the perspective of optimising health care. This may provide motivation for change, reduce disincentives and avoid some of the ethical dilemmas inherent in other disinvestment approaches. The impetus and rationale for disinvestment activities are likely to affect all aspects of the process from identification and prioritisation through to implementation and evaluation but have not been widely discussed. A need for mechanisms, frameworks, methods and tools for disinvestment is reported. However there are several health improvement paradigms with mature frameworks and validated methods and tools that are widely-used and well-accepted in local health services that already undertake disinvestment-type activities and could be expanded and built upon. The nature of disinvestment brings some particular challenges for policy-makers, managers, health professionals and researchers. There is little evidence of successful implementation of 'disinvestment' projects in the local setting, however initiatives to remove or replace technologies and practices have been successfully achieved through evidence-based practice, quality and safety activities, and health service improvement programs. Conclusions: These findings suggest that the construct of 'disinvestment' may be problematic at the local level. A new definition and two potential approaches to disinvestment are proposed to stimulate further research and discussion.
- Resource allocation