Doctors should tell patients truth about their waiting lists

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7312.574/a (Published 08 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:574
  1. Noelle O'Rourke, consultant in clinical oncology (norourke{at}tinyworld.co.uk)
  1. Beatson Oncology Centre, Western Infirmary, Glasgow G11 6NT

    EDITOR—Hayward advocates getting angry on behalf of our patients and complaining openly about the inadequacies of the services we offer.1 As the oncologist who went public on the effects of excessive waiting lists for radiotherapy,2 I would like to defend myself against his criticism that it took me so long.

    It is obvious that untreated cancers will grow, and waiting lists for radiotherapy have been a problem for some time throughout the United Kingdom. It was only when Edwards and I completed our audit, however, that the full effects became clear.2 My only hesitation in publishing was in contacting my defence union and the Royal College of Radiologists, without whose support I would have been nervous of the management's response.

    Unfortunately, although the paper caused a brief national stir with cries for more resources, a year later the waiting list for radiotherapy in Glasgow is no shorter. The difference is that I now tell patients there is a risk that their potentially curable lung cancer may progress and become incurable while they are on our waiting list. The patients know that I am angry on their behalf, but that is little consolation to either them or me when I have added to their already considerable distress and anxiety by telling them the truth about the waiting list.

    I agree with Hayward that doctors should complain when the service fails patients—but not to improve our status, rather to enlist the patients' support so that together we have more chance of effecting change. Meanwhile, the truth is more painful for both patients and doctors to face than for the managers and politicians, who ought to be accounting for the inadequacies of the NHS.


    1. 1.
    2. 2.
    View Abstract

    Sign in

    Log in through your institution

    Free trial

    Register for a free trial to thebmj.com to receive unlimited access to all content on thebmj.com for 14 days.
    Sign up for a free trial