Leading article: The heart of the matter

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Bernard Ribeiro, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, is evidently a brave man. The heads of professional bodies do not usually prosper by demanding more transparency from their members. And one suspects that Dr Ribeiro's suggestion that Britain's 6,000 surgeons should make their clinical records available to patients is unlikely to be greeted with wild enthusiasm by the RCS.

But it is an excellent idea. It is certainly practical. Cardiac surgeons already make their records public. There is no obvious reason why other surgical practitioners should not do the same. The publication of this data should also help put power in the hands of patients rather than the medical profession.

Indeed, it is hard to see how patients can exercise genuine choice when it comes to surgery without knowing a little about the records of the practitioners on offer.

But why stop with surgeons? Why should we not have access to information on the record of GPs and anaesthetists too? It is one of the great fallacies of the age that all medical practitioners are, by their very nature, competent and caring individuals and that to question or challenge their judgement is unwise and perhaps even insulting. Natural deference should have no place in a national health system. Malpractice does take place and too often it goes undetected.

Naturally, medicine is always going to rely on trust to a greater extent than other service sectors. But as Mr Ribeiro puts it: "Trust comes with information. The patient who has information will trust the doctor."

Give us the information and we will make our own minds up.

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