Ethical Dimensions of Resource Allocation and Rationing

Subject: Nursing
Pages: 3
Words: 865
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: Bachelor


Resource allocation and resource rationing, although similar concepts, raise some unique ethical issues, especially in nursing. In the ever-changing modern world, it is essential to consider the allocation and rationing of nursing and medical resources in the most efficient way. Furthermore, the existing limitations to the quality and quantity of care received depend on the demographic of the individual. Hospitals and clinics worldwide, and in the US in particular, must remain relevant and up-to-date with the societal, technological, and political changes and implement strategies that reflect them. The following essay discusses the ethical dimensions of resource allocation and rationing in nursing care and the distribution of resources, including the limitations, current solutions, and further research required.

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Resource Allocation


Resource allocation is the assignment of resources to services, departments, and projects, depending on the specific criteria and usually aimed at optimizing the outcome or ensuring fairness. Regardless of whether the resources in question are human, medications, or otherwise, the goal is to distribute them in a way that is beneficial to the desired outcome (Scott et al., 2019). Therefore, it is essential to plan and manage the allocation depending on the goals of the institution and the availability and importance of resources. In nursing, effective resource allocation can potentially be life-saving for the patients. However, even in less extreme cases, it leads to an efficient workplace, ensuring a smooth flow of hospital routines.

Ethical Dimensions in Nursing Care

One of the important factors of resource allocation is ethical considerations. When making decisions about the assets, there is an inevitable trade-off and hence an opportunity cost, which is, at times, an ethical question. Although unlike resource rationing, which will be discussed in the next section, the resources are assumed to be plenty, they are still finite and hence the distribution might not always be even. For example, if there is only one nurse working at the hospital on the night shift, they must make the decision on which one of the patients is a priority. While the nurse might still be able to attend to each one of the patients, the order in which they are taken care of depends on the decisions that the nurse makes. While there are some theories and practices in place that might guide the decision-maker, it is still often decided on a case-by-case basis.

Resource Rationing


Resource rationing, on the other hand, refers to the allocation of resources based on the assumption that there is not infinite amounts of assets available. Instead, it assumes that careful planning is required to ensure that the distribution does not result in the termination of all resources from then on. In other words, it means that the outcome of resources might be lower than otherwise but would be able to span over a longer time period. This concept is particularly important in nursing, as it can mean that some patients are forced to receive significantly less care than is optimal (Scott, 2017). This means that there are ethical considerations that must be made regarding which of the patients deserves to receive a higher quantity or quality of care.

Ethical Dimensions in Nursing Care

As mentioned above, resource rationing in nursing care, as opposed to other fields, is a highly ethical issue. Rationing includes higher stakes in health care than in most other fields since it might mean the question of life and death for the patients. Some of the examples can be found in the recent events of the global pandemic, where the resources are often too little for the number of patients (Supady et al., 2021). For example, since there are not enough hospital beds to accommodate all those with Covid-19 symptoms, they must be rationed and only a certain number of people can be allowed to get premium care. Therefore, a line must be drawn to determine which people are “sick enough,” often meaning that individuals are denied quality care. Supady et al. (2021) suggest that the egalitarian and utilitarian strategy should be employed when rationing Covid-19 resources, meaning that the needs of the majority are prioritized. However, what is most needed for the decisions to be made is full information and hence further research.


Overall, there are many ethical considerations that must be made when allocating or rationing nursing resources. Since the stakes for the medical care resources are higher, often leading to saving someone’s life or ending one, there is a need for complete information on the issue before any decision can be made. Therefore, there is a need to make use of the current technological advances, such as digital patient cards and machine learning software, to ensure the highest quality care for all patients. Since there is currently a global pandemic in place, the need is higher than ever for medical and nursing research to ensure that the practices are backed by sufficient evidence-based theory. In the future, it might be possible to make decisions on rationing using learning programs that take egalitarian or utilitarian ideals in order to make the decisions. Nevertheless, there is a continuous need for support for ethical studies in nursing and medical care and research that combines all dimensions of decision-making.


Scott, P. A., Harvey, C., Felzmann, H., Suhonen, R., Habermann, M., Halvorsen, K.,… & Papastavrou, E. (2019). Resource allocation and rationing in nursing care: A discussion paper. Nursing Ethics, 26(5), 1528-1539.

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Scott, P. A. (2017). Key concepts and issues in nursing ethics. Springer International Publishing.

Supady, A., Curtis, J. R., Abrams, D., Lorusso, R., Bein, T., Boldt, J.,… & Brodie, D. (2021). Allocating scarce intensive care resources during the COVID-19 pandemic: practical challenges to theoretical frameworks. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 9(4), 430-434.