Treatment auspices for exploitation of innocent lives for money
Despite the double standard of the medical profession having higher than the average levels of alcoholism and addiction at 17%, 2% over the 15% of the general population, and its warnings about risks of such dependency, many doctors have called for extra charges to patients visiting A and E departments with the same issues of alcohol abuse as themselves. The Herald investigates.
Actual costs to the taxpayer of treatment and costs of its medics is an important consideration in this regard, especially as in Scotland many more millions are being paid out in compensation claims: latest FOI figures showing £55 million in 2013 and rising each year.
This figure being almost twice the costs of training them, 26m in 2013-14 – according to Scottish Funding Council data, but overall training costs for the medical field being close to 1 billion, including support staff in the form of nurses, as well as dentists.
Ultimately, the NHS training 20,000 current doctors, at a cost of £26.5m – 2013/14 Scottish Funding Council Figures, with twice that amount again going out in payouts for negligence claims. According to latest FOI request figures, in 2013 the compensation payment was £55m, having risen steadily from previous years.
Compared with the SFC funds amounting to: medicine £26.5m; nursing £65m; dentistry £5m; out of £1.1 billion amounting close to 1 billion out of the annual £1.6 billion universities and colleges funding budget – most of it spent on what are termed ‘controlled places’ in university medical departments.
Its website states: 03/2014-Scottish Funding Council Report – Purpose of this publication is to announce the intake targets for academic year 2014 -15 for the controlled subjects of medicine, dentistry and initial teacher education. The SFC invests around £1.6 billion in Scotland’s colleges and universities for teaching, learning, research and other activities in support of Scottish Government priorities.
The above compensation figures have been linked with addictions and mental health issues of doctors, according to Jonathan Williams; Consultant anaesthetist with Sussex County Council and Secretary of Sick Doctors’ Trust; who discusses the problem of addiction among medics and its consequences.
Williams explained medics do have a higher rate of addiction problems than the general population – 17 per cent compared to 15 per cent of the population, but their defence, he explained the higher and faster rate of recovery than the population they treat.
In addition, the taxpayer has also to burden the costs of salaries, on average at basic £100,000 for consultants, and up to an extra 150,000 for overtime work – in a job which averages a forty hour week, similar to most professions, but to salaries of three times more than average. Without taking this into account- he said: “Difference is- if doctors can get into recovery, he has got a much better chance of recovery. It is 90%, but among ordinary people it is 20-30% […] because doctors are so motivated, so help public and not in it to make money”. His reasoning being that ‘’you look after your fellow man, so motivated to recover”. This he attributes to – controversially a superiority complex: “doctors’ lives are more important than businessmen or editors”.
As a justification for high incidences, Williams uses the genetic argument to defend doctors’ behaviour as the cause of alcoholic addictions, and that: “You can’t choose to be an alcoholic”. However this argument has in fact been disputed and studies have shown that the genetic evidence is as yet unclear.
Aside from this, Williams seems to be putting the blame on patients for the addiction problems of the profession. The cause of so much distress for them as: “patients transfer their anxiety on to you … it’s a distressful life being a doctor, people dying, in trouble”, but most doctors, including himself, do not have to deal with end of life crises. Those that do have the support of a colleague.
In such cases, Williams said that those finding themselves in a position they are uncomfortable with would be able to get transferred to a different role. Therefore it seems that those kind of serious issues causing anxiety can be avoided by the vulnerable medic: “If you’re qualified and you don’t like it , the particular job working with patients, you can transfer to a different department, for example bloods […] it can be a very difficult situation with patients’ lives in your hands”.
In relation to encounters with such distressful situations, he said that, for instance in terms of deaths: “that only happened once in a while and that you would have a colleague with you”.
In terms of dealing with the problem of negligence on behalf of patients is the Scottish Patients Ms Margaret Watt, chairperson pf the Scottish Patients Association said that in terms of medical negligence, the SPA listens to and represents patients in terms of their complaints, which she said can in some instances take years to take to court.
Watt said the many foreign doctors currently working in the country who often have problems with the language so contributing to incorrect treatment. She added that the system needs an overhaul.
Speaking from his own past as an ex – alcoholic over twenty – five years ago now, he had mentally collapsed due to his heavy drinking lifestyle, been found suicidal and had to be taken to a special unit, sectioned for a brief time, and also ‘dried out’ or rehabilitated as a result. About this he said: “I called an ambulance, then my family turned up, so didn’t need it, was in hospital in Brighton, then shunted off to an alcohol unit”. Here he was “dried out” – this he considers the best way of beating any addiction.
As a result: “I haven’t drunk for 25 years he said. It is much easier to deal with it [anxiety] because I can talk to my family. This is nice, but before I couldn’t deal with any of it”.
The issue he explains was feeling ‘invincible’, reasons being how medics are perceived and treated by their staff, a culture fostered within the system and which has been self-defeating, in terms of services.
Williams admitted that doctors do “play God” and see themselves as invincible: He said “they think they can do no wrong, that’s the danger of course […] yes, it could be detrimental to patients, I guess when young feel like that.” He added: “the nurses and management say the doctors are the boss, this is charming, but a responsibility”. The effect of which could be detrimental: – “There’s no harm in this but not useful if drinking too much. The consequences – like airline pilots” soaring high .The effects of this on the medics points towards the high incidences of addictions and illnesses:
Williams compares himself to a high – flying pilot or the Legal Eagles – and saying medics in terms of thinking of themselves as high flyers assume this entitles them to do what they please regarding alcohol, and also patients’ lives, so could cause negative consequences. This had been his own experience, but a learning curve as well: He said: “You are not God. Lots of addicts all think they can do no wrong. It makes them feel good – to think they’re God”.
His own recovery he said had helped him to deal better with his work, with the ongoing support of the Doctors and Dentists’ group meetings, an organization similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. The meetings he still attends after 25 years are “like AA meetings, except they are taking in a medical perspective” and also because medics “do not want to be seen in public”.
In addition the taxpayer is having to shoulder the burden of irresponsibility while being lead to believe that on the whole the NHS is doing a good job. The real term costs of the profession in terms of funding – apart from training and controversially high salaries costs of treating staff and payments for staff hours taken off sick. The costs to the taxpayer and patients’ lives of resulting medical negligence can include financial issues, loss of livelihoods or resulting illness, time taken or wasted in the course of treatments, stress, satisfaction rates, treatment outcomes and resulting medical negligence claims.
In terms of dealing with the problem , Williams said that if suspected, doctors are pulled up for drinking too much – and breathalysed by the General Medical Council, but it cannot make them go to D and D or AA meetings. He added: ”The GMC have a much better attitude towards it now, for instance help them on to doctors’ organisations like AA where they can talk confidentially about what goes on in their illness”, also that they could be struck off for such issues.
In conclusion, reliance on professionals and especially medics is becoming increasingly ingrained into society and people’s psyches, partly due to aggressive marketing strategies, alternatives to medicine must be made clear. As well as this people in such situations need to realise how they can benefit themselves and those close to them without having to resort to possibly risky or unnecessary forms of treatment without any guarantee of outcome.