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Tuesday, June 9, 1998 Published at 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK

Health: Latest News

'I have a duty to treat you - if I can afford it'

Should doctors be brutally honest with patients?

BMA head of ethics Dr Michael Wilks on the Hippocratic Oath
A row has broken out over a proposal to amend the doctors' Hippocratic Oath to take account of the impact of limited NHS resources.

The proposal to update the oath has been put forward by the Chief Medical Officer Sir Kenneth Calman in a new volume of his writings.

Sir Kenneth suggests the oath, which has provided an ethical basis for the practice of medicine for the past 2,500 years, fails to take account of modern day circumstances.

He says it should include the passage: "I will recognise that the decisions I make will have consequences for the patient, the community and for resources."

[ image: Shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdecombe: 'Patient's welfare must come first.']
Shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdecombe: 'Patient's welfare must come first.'
However, shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdecombe attacked any attempt to amend the oath.

She said: "This would be extremely dangerous for patient confidence, who must believe that doctors are putting them first.

"What this new Hippocratic Oath appears to be saying is: `I will uphold your life unless Health Secretary Frank Dobson has closed your hospital'."

Patient's welfare first

"The doctor must always put the patient's welfare first. If financial constraints then come into play, at least the patient knows the score about what is best, and what is being offered."

It is almost certain that Commons questions will be tabled to Mr Dobson about any possible plans to change the Hippocratic Oath.

[ image: Limited resources are a harsh reality in the modern NHS]
Limited resources are a harsh reality in the modern NHS
Sir Kenneth makes his proposal in a new book, The Potential for Health which is being published this month.

The British Medical Association debated a call for the Hippocratic Oath to be updated at its annual conference last July.

A working party was set up to look at alternatives.

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