Date Published: 11 July 2007

BMA comment on the Health and Social Care Bill (UK)

Comment on this issue:

Medical mistakes/incompetence are more likely to lead to deaths and/or long-term suffering than mistakes in other areas of human activity.

Anyone who is living with the long-term effects of what he/she believes to be medical negligence, or anyone who has suffered bereavement due to the loss of a friend or family member that "using a balance of probabilities" would be considered to be caused by medical negligence or incompetence may disagree with the BMA on this subject.

Removal of a person's livelihood is not to be taken lightly but when lives may be at risk, there is a strong argument that the public is "better safe than sorry". Everyone makes mistakes at some time and there should, of course, be checks and balances. However, each physician sees many patients and it is the government's first responsibility to protect the health and safety of those many patients rather than the career prospects of the medical practitioner. (Although doubtless a major penalty, if unable to practice medicine he/she would still have other career options, in medical writing/journalism, in the pharmaceutical industry, etc..
In contrast, further errors or other ill-treatment of patients may may cause injury, distress, or death.)

Commenting on the regulation aspects of the Health and Social Care Bill, as announced today by the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, BMA Chairman, Dr Hamish Meldrum, said:

The BMA's members have made it very clear that they are against using a balance of probabilities the civil standard of proof to take away a doctor's livelihood. Nothing less than the criminal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt is acceptable. This does not jeopardise patient safety but maintains a system in which both the public and the profession can have confidence that fairness and justice will be delivered.

On the proposal to have a named person in every workplace to identify and handle cases of poor professional performance, Dr Meldrum added:

On the surface this sounds very similar to the idea of GMC affiliates put forward in the Chief Medical Officer's paper on medical regulation. We pointed out at the time that this was an unworkable idea and we suggested instead a regional network, rather than an employer based network, to improve clinical governance.

_ The BMA is about to enter into discussions on the whole of the Government's proposals for medical regulation. Patient safety is paramount, but if any future system is to work it has to have the confidence of the doctors being regulated. Our members will strongly oppose any proposal to use a lesser standard of proof when their whole career is on the line.


Source: British Medical Association.

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