Sunday, 11 November 2007

Medics of the past, present and future

Last night, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, I joined the West Suffolk Medical Society as a guest at their annual Armistice dinner.

This dinner has a powerful history. During WW1 the local doctors divided into a group who went to the front line, and a group who stayed behind, caring for both sets of patients. At the end of the war the home-based colleagues passed the medical practices back to the returning doctors. They were under no obligation to do so. In 1920 the returning doctors held a dinner to thank their civilian colleagues. The following year the dinner was reciprocated. The dinner has been held every year since baring a break during WW2. Now it alternates between the hospital doctors thanking the GPs and vice versa.

It is a rare treat for hospital doctors and GPs to get time together to talk about the past, present and future of their profession. Their common complaint was political interference. Dr Jeremy Webb, the Chairman, read memoirs of a Medic from WW1. Back then conditions made it almost impossible for the doctors to make any medical difference but the moral boost of their presence was enormous. On the front line today our Army doctors regularly save lives in seemingly impossible cases. Whether in a war zone or back at home we all want well trained, excellent doctors.

Professor Dame Carol Black, Chairman of the Joint Royal Medical Colleges was the guest speaker. She warned that this summer's fiasco over junior doctors is likely to get worse. Since 1997 the number of doctors being trained has risen from 5,000 to 7,000 each year - at the same time more of the doctor's traditional roles are taken on by other professionals. Many of the next generation doctors will not find the jobs they have been trained for. The Department of Health has no coherent forward looking policy yet one is desperately needed. Training each doctor costs the tax payer £250,000 and many of our best junior doctors are already going overseas. On top of this the DoH appears to have put its head under the sand regarding immigration and foreign doctors. These are all complex and sensitive issues, that need the medical professionals to work together - but this need leadership from government too - and that is sadly lacking.

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