Consultants 'must share blame for waiting lists'

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BRITAIN'S medical elite has used its political and professional power to thwart competition from other doctors, and must share the blame for long NHS waiting lists, according to an academic study published today.

UK medical care remains cast in traditions of paternalism and monopoly power, but the establishment of self-governing NHS trusts and growing pressure for cost-effective health services are beginning to 'clear the smokescreen of clinical judgement' that has long concealed waste and patronage in medical practice, the report says.

The attack on the privileges enjoyed by the medical establishment was made in the report, written by David Gladstone, lecturer in social policy at Bristol University, and published by the Adam Smith Institute, the right-wing think-tank.

Dr Gladstone argued that the balance of professional power in the health service remained heavily weighted towards the consultants. On the General Medical Council, the regulatory body, doctors outnumbered lay members by five to one. 'It is hard to resist the conclusion that this body has become a politicised organisation, designed to defend the interests of the medical profession against both public scrutiny and government interference.'

Research by the Royal College of General Practitioners showed that British patients waited on average 36 days to see a specialist, compared with 1.5 days in Hungary, 7 days in Germany and 11 days in Italy.

'Not only do British patients wait longer to see a specialist than in any other European country, they do so in spite of the fact that British GPs refer relatively fewer patients to hospital than their European counterparts,' he said.

Opening Up the Medical Monopoly; Dr David Gladstone, Adam Smith Institute, 23 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BL; pounds 14.