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BMA hits back

Claims of drink and drug addiction in the medical profession have been slammed by the professional body

The British Medical Association (BMA) has hit back at the BBC's claims that one in 15 doctors are addicted to drink or drugs, admonishing it for inaccurate reports of dependency in the medical professions.

BBC1's Real Story revealed that 750 clinical and medical staff in England have been disciplined for offences involving alcohol or drugs at work, citing figures obtained using the Freedom of Information Act.

The figures, based on replies from one in three hospital trusts in the UK, suggest that one in 15 doctors are addicted to drink or drugs, a claim the BMA has labelled as ìinaccurateî, saying that the ìfigure is not any higher than in the general populationî.

Yet doctors are known to be at least three times more likely to have cirrhosis of the liver than the rest of the population - second only to publicans.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said that research conducted by the association estimates that ìone in 15 doctors will, at some point in their lifetime, have some kind of problem with alcohol or drugs ranging from misuse up to dependence that may affect their care of patientsî.

ìThere are some services already available to doctors such as the BMA's counselling service and its advisory unit `Doctors for Doctors', but the government could do more by investing in specially designed services that will meet the distinct needs of doctors,î she added.

However, her comments offered a stark contrast to those from the chairman of the BMA's ethics committee, Dr Michael Wilks, who told Real Story that there are ìlevels of denial that make it virtually impossible for an alcoholic doctor to be helpedî.

He said that doctors needed help to tackle the problem and suggested that a fairly modest investment could ensure the setting up of a monitoring system and programme that would intervene effectively and help people to get the right treatment.

The BBC's survey has unearthed numerous cases across England where medical staff, including consultants have been disciplined. At Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, three consultants in three years had been referred to the General Medical Council for alcohol problems while at East Kent NHS Trust seven doctors and two nurses had been disciplined in the last 10 years.

The most alarming figures however, came from the University of Leicester NHS Trust where 17 clinical staff had been disciplined in the last decade.

30th September 2008

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