Letter:Booze culture bad for doctors

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The Independent Online
Sir: Dr Phil Hammond (28 January) wants to have his drink and drink it. On the one hand he shares ripping yarns of alcohol-induced male bonding rituals, while on the other he classifies those medical schools trying to address the problem as "puritans". There is a middle ground.

Few would doubt that alcohol is the doctor's favourite drug. The fact that most of the Christmas gifts from my own patients contained alcohol is testimony to that. The evidence that small regular amounts may protect middle-aged people from heart disease will help to maintain alcohol's popularity among doctors. However, many medical schools, as well as the General Medical Council, now regard the past alcohol excesses of medical students as unacceptable and a possible precursor for problem drinking in doctors.

This medical and dental school has recently approved a new alcohol and drugs policy, which aims to change the culture. Our aim is to help staff and students with problems and protect the public from unsafe practitioners. We hope to do this in four ways: by setting standards (eg no drinking during the working day), by educating staff and students about the long- term effects of alcohol, by providing confidential help, and by disciplining those who won't learn.

We hope this will allow future and current doctors and dentists to develop a balanced use of alcohol, allowing them to give advice to patients without hypocrisy. As the Bible says: "Wine is as good as life to a man, if it be drunk moderately."

Dr PETER WHITE

Sub-Dean for Student Welfare

St Bartholomew's and the Royal London Medical School

London EC1

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