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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
How can the NHS restore your trust?
An inquiry has been launched into how a UK pathologist continued working despite making hundreds of mistakes.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
More than 200 cancer patients may have been wrongly diagnosed by the same doctor - one woman even had one of her breasts removed by mistake.
Dr James Ellwood stopped work last year and therefore cannot be punished by the General Medical Council, whose role in policing the profession is increasingly under question.
The case is the latest in a series of scare stories to hit the National Health Service and coincides with the unveiling of a new government proposal aimed at rooting out bad doctors via an "early warning system".
Most of us still consider it a real privilege to be a doctor and obtain enormous satisfaction from it. To suggest that money is the driving force or that any mistake is somehow negligent, shows such little understanding, it makes me despair.
Jay Linden, England
My heart goes out to the doctors who tried their best, worked long and often unpaid overtime hours, and made genuine mistakes, at which they too were horrified. Isn't more ongoing training for doctors more useful than scape-goating individuals?
The NHS is under-funded, plain and simple.
Bad workers in any field have no place in the NHS.
Doctors cannot be immune from enquiry or scrutiny, but equally should not be blamed for poor services resulting from political decisions.
It's time to sack everyone who is guilty of substandard service and everyone who is in a leadership position within the NHS, including Tony Blair's shameless administration. Only after such a purge can confidence even have the chance of being restored.
Perhaps fewer mistakes would be made if the staff were getting enough sleep. I'm sure most experienced doctors have let a few avoidable deaths slip through.
The more they diagnose accurately and prescribe appropriately the greater the confidence. Perhaps the Japanese are now the longest living because their diagnostic toilets are better than our professionals.
Personally, I think the N.H.S is a disgrace. We have the lowest clear up rate for cancer in Europe; and indeed when both Britain and France were gripped by a flu epidemic but it was the British NHS that failed its people. We must move on from this juvenile debate about our NHS being the envy of the world and the socialist dogma of "free at the point of use" when patients are dying of diseases like cancer when they cannot get modern medication. A more sensible approach is needed where the health service is paid for by more than general taxation
I wish people would stop whinging about the NHS. We have among the best healthcare in the world. I also think consultants should be respected in the way they are just now as it helps keep order in the workplace, if they were to lose their "godlike" status there would be more conflicts with less qualified staff.
I wish the media would make more fuss over the commonplace violent crime in this country than the extremely isolated incidents of "killer doctors" then the government may do something about it. Now that would win my vote.
Stephen Macdonald, Scotland
I am a GP who is very concerned about the possibility of a witch-hunt amongst doctors.
The NHS has been ignored and under-funded for too long. Health has for years been at the top of parties' electoral agendas, but the Health Service itself remains at the bottom of their 'To Do' lists. Cases like this demonstrate that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and it's time for us all to accept that there is no 'magic formula' whereby we can do so, and have top-level public services and minimal taxes. This doesn't mean simply throwing money into the existing structure, but using funds to restructure and rebuild. If we want a NHS to be proud of, we have to pay for it.
How can my trust be restored? It can't. I've got private health insurance. I'm lucky to be able to afford it. However, my family comes first and that means not letting them go anywhere near the NHS.
In response to Malcolm McCandless' letter, the NHS is not crumbling now. It's been crumbling for years, maybe decades. The only difference now is that we get to hear about it more often. Just like the crime figures, it's no worse now, we just hear more about it. NB I work in the NHS (not as a doctor) and I'm much more hopeful about it now than I was 5 years ago.
The only pertinent question in this sad episode is why these incompetent doctors were allowed to carry on for as long as they did.
When the government tries to save money when they should be spending more on health, then doctors are overworked and under too much stress. Mistakes happen. They are highly educated professionals worthy of respect but they are human.
Painkillers had been prescribed for someone who hadn't managed to eat for a week by doctors who simply didn't have time to listen. To restore my confidence would require major surgery.
If there really are too many managers, remove them (unbelievably the German system is less bureaucratic), but if you want a European quality of service, you are going to have to pay more for it, and over a long period of time. I fear the 'system' will prevent the change necessary from ever happening.
Ken Beach, Germany
I am more interested in how these cases all suddenly come out of the woodwork at once just in time to divert attention away from New Labour's latest PR gaffe. What else is in the closet for later?
It is futile to slap a consultant on the wrist at a GMC hearing then retire him/her on an NHS pension. If more punitive action was taken perhaps it would stop the rotten apples (which appear in all professions) wreaking devastation on so many patients.
Furthermore, it is not simply a question of throwing more money at the NHS, but ensuring that staff are aware of their moral responsibilities and do not turn a blind eye to the malpractice of their peers.
Britain is not a poor country. We can afford the NHS we all want. Consultants who work one day a week in the private sector should not also be paid by the NHS for that day.
I have great sympathy with patients who are wrongly diagnosed (I might even be one myself one day), but we are dealing with an inexact science and with ordinary, mortal human beings (not Gods, as we have been accused of being) and it is high time that we all appreciated the fact that doctors are not rogues, that the huge majority work very hard and that they are mortified whenever they do make a mistake.
M Hay, UK
While no-one can condone unsafe medical services, it is hard to see how a computer system can prevent further cases. A computer can, at best, permit earlier identification of errors, as there must be a time-lag between the time of diagnosis and the eventual discovery of incorrect diagnosis of a patient's condition.
The GMC should bring its re-training programmes into line with other professions in order that medical practitioners can be kept up to date and re-assessed regularly. We also need a newly appointed body to undertake independent inspections, perhaps similar to offsted which inspects the teaching profession.
It seems incredible that the medical profession is allowed to police itself and the NHS Trusts created by the Tories are nothing but new business bureaucracies going out of their way to avoid litigation and liability at all costs. With the NHS consuming vast amounts of public funds each year, it is time for much more openness and transparency.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in this area, as in others such as the GM food debate and the global warming debate, is the arrogance of the professional, and the unwillingness to admit that they might be wrong. Professionalism is one thing, narrow-minded bigotry and pride is another.
An apt expression comes to mind when considering the NHS' woes - "You get what you pay for".
It's about time we stopped the 'Gentleman's Club' approach to our medicine and conducted affairs in the open. If not we leave ourselves open to more of this abuse in the future.
Mark Dickinson, England
A computer based tracking system which monitors doctors diagnoses should hopefully identify incompetent doctors before they build up an alarming number of cases. This will also make it easier for independent third party review of performance rather than relying on a hospital's own checking system, which could give a colleague and friend the benefit of the doubt. I feel however that it is impossible to eradicate incompetence totally.
Too little, too late. The NHS is crumbling before our very eyes.
John Elliott, France
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