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Sir Donald Irvine
"I think the GMC is making considerable progress"
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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 11:24 GMT
NHS 'fails to respect patients'
Name plate of GMC
GMC president calls for changes in the NHS
One of Britain's most senior doctor has said morale is at an all time low in the NHS.

Sir Donald Irvine, the president of the General Medical Council - the doctors' own regulatory body - has criticised the NHS for a 'flawed culture' which leaves patients and medics disillusioned.

In a speech to the Royal Society of Medicine, in London, on Monday Sir Donald blamed a "deep seated" paternalism for the problems which have left the NHS "secretive" and not providing the best for patients or staff.

He said: "The cultural flaws in the medical profession show up as excessive paternalism, lack of respect for patients and their right to make decisions about their care, and secrecy and complacency about poor practice.

"These all contribute to a picture which leads the public to believe that a lot of doctors put their own interests before that of their patients," said Sir Donald.

His comments came just a day after Ken Williams, the Chief Executive of Bedford Hospitals, resigned following the revelation that bodies had been stored in the hospital's unrefrigerated chapel because the mortuary was full.

I cannot remember a time when doctors have felt so angry, undervalued and disillusioned

Sir Donald Irvine, GMC President
But Sir Donald said doctors are also suffering from the regime and that this is affecting their performance, adding that some were saying medicine has "become much more of a job and much less of a vocation."

Too few doctors

He said there were too few doctors, and that led to concerns about whether or not the NHS can deliver the services.

"I cannot remember a time when so many doctors have felt so angry, undervalued and disillusioned.

"Public and government criticism of the profession and fears of litigation have added to the demoralising effect of the treadmill, the relentless rising volume of service demands which leaves no proper time for establishing effective relationships with patients, and for reflective practice review, both of which are fundamental to good quality."

And he called on the government to work with the medical profession to help the NHS give its best.

Sir Donald Irvine
Sir Donald Irvine, president of the GMC
He told the BBC that the GMC is making considerable efforts to get its own house in order. The regulatory body has long been criticised for moving too slowly to deal with complaints which clog up the system.

Last year alone complaints against doctors rose from 3,000 to 4,300.

House in order

But Sir Donald said reform plans which are currently under way at the GMC are already showing results and that they have reduced the waiting times for cases by nearly half over the last six months.

"I think the GMC is making very considerable progress in sorting its own internal problems out," he said.

But he said that doctors must put their own house in order to avoid an OFSTED like body being imposed on the medical profession.

"OFSTED of course deals with the bad apples, and has had real successes - but at the cost of alienating many good teachers," he said.

BMA response

Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: "No doubt some doctors are complacent about poor practice and putting their own interests before that of patients.

"They are the ones who suffer from cultural flaws. But they are a tiny minority.

"Our task is to end these pockets of under-performance."

Dr Bogle said he feared that concentration on the activities of a few poorly performing doctors would undermine the dedication of the majority.

Professor Mike Pringle, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "We need as a matter of urgency to look at the way in which services are delivered and continue to develop initiatives to promote excellent quality of care.

"This can only be done if we work closely with patients and take into account the views of all NHS staff.

"Sir Donald Irvine has done us a service by raising these issues - it is up to the government, professional bodies and the general public to decide how we solve them."

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GMC votes for reform
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