Feature Professional Values

Responsibilities beyond the patient

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6832 (Published 30 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6832
  1. Jacqui Wise, freelance journalist1,
  2. Rebecca Coombes, features editor2
  1. 1Kent
  2. 2BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK

Do family and hospital doctors have a duty to the health of their local community, or just to the individual patient in front of them? Jacqui Wise and Rebecca Coombes report on a discussion hosted last week by the BMJ and the King’s Fund

Does a general practitioner in a mining area who encounters a cluster of emphysema cases have a duty to speak up about local working conditions? Does a doctor working in an area of high smoking prevalence have a duty to target the community with smoking cessation or other initiatives?

Speakers—including a GP and a public health pioneer—at a discussion hosted by the BMJ and King’s Fund in London last week were united in agreement that all clinicians do have a responsibility to the population as well as to the individual patient.

Iona Heath, president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “In any collectively funded health system, GPs must find a way to balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the population. On the other hand, if you are an entirely private …

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