Doctors 'too busy to show compassion'

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The Independent Online
Doctors are being trained in conveyor-belt medicine at the expense of compassion and humanity, a consultant physician claimed yesterday.

Dr Philip Welsby, an expert in infectious diseases at the City Hospital, Edinburgh, said the emphasis in medicine now was on rapid processing and efficient throughput, rather than thoughtful, considered service.

"If your car breaks down, you go to Kwik Fit, because it is fast. With cars it does not matter if the service is basic and impersonal, but with medicine it does not suit everybody."

It was reassuring that morale among doctors was low, he said. "It would be more worrying if doctors were content with the system's present emphasis on meeting targets and coming in on budget," he said.

Dr Welsby's remarks come the day after the British Medical Association released a study of 500 recent medical graduates which found that their professional lives were an unsatisfactory combination of boredom and panic.

While a quarter of those questioned had had to undertake tasks beyond their capabilities, others spent too much of their time in routine tasks, such as taking blood samples and putting up drips. The report questions whether, once doctors have acquired these skills, they provide any educational value.

Now in its second year, the study found that few first-year junior doctors (pre-registration house officers) were being trained by their consultants. Most were learning their jobs from other junior staff and nurses, or having to teach themselves.

The report calls for more supervision of juniors, in order to improve patient care, raise doctors' morale and protect young doctors from litigation.

Dr Welsby, commenting on the report yesterday, said that one of the main problems with undergraduate training was that the role of the hospital general physician was disappearing and students were spending too much time with specialists.

"Students are taught by multiple specialists, with the accent on disease entities, rather than the whole person. Patients have become chest cases, heart cases and the like, rather than worried, ill people with things wrong with them. Some young, basically healthy patients might want a rapid service, where they are in and out very quickly, but other people often want an in-depth chat with the doctor.

"That is why we are seeing an exponential growth in alternative medicine."