NEW regulations to protect doctors and their patients, albeit in different ways, will be a good New Year gift for the health service and for people generally.
Still, it is difficult to understand how the system deteriorated to the extent that many patients feel they cannot complain about their treatment and why so many doctors are apparently afraid to admit their own failings.
Although public disquiet about the state of the health service usually centres on lack of resources, doctors themselves are not immune to criticism.
The anger of outpatients who are interviewed as they seethe in some A&E waiting room is often tempered with a "Mind you, I'm not blaming the staff". However, a Medical Council survey of hospitals, doctors and members of the public has found that one person in four say they had a reason for being dissatisfied with a doctor some time in the past five years. The complaint usually had something to do with poor communication.
Some former hospital patients complained that they had to ask a nurse to explain what was wrong with them after they had been attended by a doctor.
Few of these actually lodged a complaint. They did not know how.
Doctors and patients alike are unhappy with a system that discourages complaints and encourages secrecy.
It is easy to understand how human frailty and fear can seek refuge behind a bureaucratic wall. Consider the aspiring young doctor who tries to cover up a mistake because he fears a black mark will hang over him throughout his career. Consider the staff member who is afraid to speak out about bad practice because he or she fears some reciprocal victimisation.
Hopefully, a new approach in coming months will create an environment in which people are not afraid to talk about slip-ups or shoddy practice in hospital or GP surgery.
The Medical Practitioners Bill will hopefully give doctors and patients a more accessible and less adversarial system. Also, the Health Information and Quality Authority is designed to protect whistleblowers.
Our health service has taken a battering for many failings. Hopefully, these steps will help restore some public confidence.We're wasting