'...a rapid response unit for investigating doubts about doctors performance' was The Times' description of the new 'National Clinical Assessment Authority'(NCAA)(15 Feburary, p8). John Denham, Health Minister, described it as a 'new approach to the problem of poorly performing doctors'. Formed as part of the implementation of 'Supporting doctors, protecting patients' (Dept of Health, November 1999) the NCAA is a new Special Health Authority. Its purpose is to 'operate a new performance assessment and support service to which a doctor can be rapidly referred, where the concern about their practice will be promptly assessed, and an appropriate solution devised'.
How do we respond to news of the new Authority? Enthusiasm? Resignation? Anger? The Times' front page headline for the same day as the above was 'Doctors in crisis as complaints soar' and there can be little doubt that the confidence and morale of British doctors has been battered by a series of damning inquiry reports (Bristol and Alder Hey) and an increasingly hostile media interest in highlighting medical errors. The previous week's Sunday Times majored on the 'Arrogance' (11 February, p1) of the NHS and of doctors in particular. But it is despair rather than arrogance that pervades many of our colleagues at present.
For many doctors medicine has been the most important thing in their life and seeing it tarnished and brought into disrepute has overwhelmed them. As Christian doctors we know that we work for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), but our work, even medicine, should never become our God (Exodus 20:3-4). It will be important in the months ahead that Christian doctors are not overwhelmed by cynicism and despair but continue to show an enthusiasm for their work, an enthusiasm which, as Paul writes, is driven by serving the Lord Jesus, not by the fear of the NCAA! (Colossians 3:22-24)
If the NCAA can reassure the public and press that doctors are serious about wanting to ensure a good standard of service for all patients then it will have a valuable role to play.