Dispatches programme uses secret filming to highlight failings by GPs | Bolt Burdon Kemp Dispatches programme uses secret filming to highlight failings by GPs | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Dispatches programme uses secret filming to highlight failings by GPs

The Dispatches programme on Channel 4 this week showed some quite shocking secret footage of appointments with several GPs where ‘red flag’ symptoms were ignored, and worrying symptoms were repeatedly dismissed, without referral. Actors provided details of symptoms that should have pointed quite clearly towards very serious conditions including cancer, when a referral for urgent tests in hospital was necessary. On each occasion they were given advice and medication and sent away, even after repeat visits.

GPs were selected by the programme on the basis that they had previously had complaints about their conduct referred to the General Medical Council (GMC). Dispatches questioned the effectiveness of the GMC’s regulation of GPs, a system that was reviewed during the Shipman Inquiry. After the inquiry’s final report in 2005, a system of revalidation was recommended for GPs, so the public could be more assured about the standard of their treatment and on-going training. This has taken a very long time to come about, and currently the system of revalidation is due to start in late 2012. This will require each GP to renew their license every five years, be subject to a more vigorous annual appraisal and to undergo continuing training on a ‘credit system’. It is quite shocking to think that such a system is not already in place, bearing in mind the huge responsibility held by each and every GP, and that 800,000 people visit GP surgeries every day.

Whilst the standard of the medical treatment revealed by footage in the programme is very disappointing, and given the symptoms described to the GPs, the delay in providing appropriate referrals could have led to serious injury or indeed death, it is a sad situation that I am not surprised by this. I often hear very similar stories from people who have indeed suffered injury as a result of a delay in diagnosing their condition. No worse situation can arise than where there is a delay in diagnosing cancer, and as a result of the delay the condition has become terminal.

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