Public Release: 

New focus on medical professionalism needed to improve public health

Lancet

Today the UK Royal College of Physicians (RCP) publishes a new report, which redefines the meaning of medical professionalism in modern society. In a Comment published online today (Tuesday December 6, 2005) by The Lancet, Richard Horton, a member of the working party, chaired by Baroness Julia Cumberlege, and the report's author, argues that professionalism is a neglected but essential aspect of health care today. He explains why professionalism is currently ill-defined in the General Medical Council's (GMC) Good Medical Practice guidelines and in the appraisal process for every doctor in the national health service.

Horton criticises the GMC for missing the significance of medical professionalism. He also states that the sustained assault on doctors by the government and the media has demoralised professionals and devalued their own view of their profession. Horton outlines the recommendations of the RCP working party, which include the creation of a new forum for medicine and incorporation of professional values as key components in evaluating doctor's performance and development. The redefinition of medical professionalism will affect medicine's leadership, clinical teams, education, appraisal, careers, and research, he writes.

Dr Horton comments: "Many doctors in Britain today feel under siege. They are told that the services they offer do not meet the standards demanded by the public. They are told that they are not delivering for patients. They are told that other groups can do what they do as well as they can or perhaps even better (prescribing, for example). They are told that they must embrace new providers in healthcare because that is the only way to break the restrictive practices they have been imposing for decades. They are told that a new raft of medical regulation is needed to prevent the crimes of Harold Shipman and the negligence of others from happening again.

"The attitude of the state towards doctors has never been more critical. It has led to panic at some medical institutions with occasionally disastrous consequences. This dimming of the profession's flame will be welcomed by critics of professional power. But the endemic demoralisation of doctors today is creating a cold front of danger that threatens the public's health."

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