Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Renewing the call for clinical ethicists

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 05 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5342
  1. Daniel K Sokol, barrister and medical ethicist, London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

The moral, legal, educational, and financial arguments for clinical ethicists are stronger than ever

Nine years ago in this journal I called for the use of clinical ethicists in UK hospitals.1 These are professionals, trained in medical ethics and law, who provide ethics support and education to clinicians and, in some cases, patients and relatives. Available at a moment’s notice, they help prevent and resolve ethical dilemmas at the coalface. Clinical ethicists are common in large hospitals in North America and some parts of Europe but virtually non-existent in the United Kingdom.

Much has changed since the publication of my original article. The number of complaints against doctors to the General Medical Council rose from 5168 in 2007 to 10 347 in 2012.2 The cost of litigation against the NHS has also vastly increased. In 2007-08 the NHS’s legal bill for clinical negligence claims was £456.4m (€570m; $760m). In 2011-12 it was £1.1bn.3

A steady stream of high …

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