Letter: Consultants' views on junior doctors' hours

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The Independent Online
Sir: Judy Jones's article 'Just what the junior doctor ordered' (28 April) is illustrated by a photograph of James Robertson Justice playing a consultant in a film made some 30 years previously. I am sorry that Ms Jones's research into consultant attitudes and behaviour covered the era of the Korean war, as her views bear little relationship to the present day.

It is extremely disheartening for modern consultants and for my committee, who have actively supported the junior doctors' need to have their hours reduced, to read your correspondent's view that our efforts are a triumph of inertia over change. I was a signatory to the document 'The New Deal', and many of my colleagues have chaired regional task forces to ensure that changes do actually happen.

You make many allusions to the consultant's power and influence. If this did exist in the Fifties, the situation is certainly very different in 1993, when, increasingly, politicians and managers are deciding on clinical priorities. You appear to support this change.

In my experience, patients would generally rather be advised by clinicians than laypeople when they are ill. They expect doctors to know what to do and then expect them to take the necessary action.

To sustain the attack, the reason for which is not clear, Ms Jones finally raises the question of merit award policy and that some consultants may earn an extra pounds 47,000. She fails to point out that this is achieved by less than 2 per cent of the consultant body.

The 'obscure NHS committees' that are involved in such awards are chaired by the chairmen of regional health authorities - usually hard- headed businessmen appointed by the Secretary of State - and contain managers from hospitals. The higher committee contains among its members Sir Duncan Nichol, chief executive of the health service. That he is regarded as 'obscure' is surprising.

Yours faithfully

JOHN CHAWNER,

Chairman

Central Consultants and Specialists Committee

British Medical Association

London, WC1

30 April

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