Last night, a Channel 4 TV 'Dispatches' documentary asked this question; for some people, the answer is a quite shocking no.
This was another of those programmes that involve both a hidden camera and a certain amount of deception, but bearing in mind both the public interest angle, and the fact that there were no legal issues such as inciting people to commit crimes, it was more than justified.
There are said to be around 800,000 doctor consultations every day in this country - which means we really are the sick man of Europe - and over the past 3 years there has been a 16% rise in complaints against doctors. After some explanation, a number of sham patients were sent into surgeries to seek consultations with a number of doctors who had proven poor track records. The first patient presented the examining GP with “red flag” symptoms of bowel cancer; the doctor in question seemed more interested in making phone calls, and diagnosed his patient’s phantom complaint as constipation. Two other doctors passed the test, but a second patient who visited another doctor with symptoms of angina fared no better. When the first patient returned to the first doctor, he still made the wrong diagnosis.
There was quite a lot of meat to this programme, not the least being the appearance of Dame Janet Smith, the High Court Judge who presided over the Shipman Inquiry. Although thankfully unlike Harold Shipman most doctors don’t murder their patients, Dame Janet made the point that her extensive investigation of the serial killer had resulted in a number of recommendations that would hopefully have led to an all round sharpening up of the service and the weeding out or at least the retraining of incompetent doctors. Unfortunately, the horror stories that were also included with this programme, show there is some way to go.
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