Headlines: July 7th, 2000

The patient should have a much stronger role in the way the medical profession is regulated, according to a report published by the King’s Fund. ‘Medical Regulation and Public Trust’ argues that the Government and the medical profession will have to open up regulatory systems to citizens or risk losing public confidence.The report shows that the issue of public confidence is not restricted to the UK. Other countries have also traditionally left medical regulation up to professional bodies. This is because public demand for health care has always exceeded what health professionals can provide, giving them the freedom to set their own systems of education and regulation.

The rise of the active citizen in the West is putting professional self-regulation under intense scrutiny. That presents a dilemma for governments and professional bodies about how much they are prepared to open up the way they work to the wider public. The report says that the British Government and the professions may be tempted to include only token public involvement in a reformed system for regulating doctors’ work. Such an approach, it argues, would not be sustainable for very long.

A series of high-profile scandals about the work of doctors has given new impetus to the Government’s plans to change the way they are regulated. Any new system of regulation needs to have the consent and support of both the public and the professions. A way needs to be found to maintain the principle of professional self-regulation with genuine public involvement in setting and monitoring standards.