Are older doctors more dangerous?

  • Posted

Posted 14/10/2013

Recent research statistics have indicated that older doctors are more likely to pose a risk to patients than their younger colleagues. However, Ashtons Legal medical injury specialist Ben Ward fears that this may be misleading when it comes to choosing where to go for medical advice.Research being conducted by Global Health Innovation has included a review by Imperial College London and the National Clinical Assessment Centre (NCAS) of doctors referred to the NCAS as potentially not “fit for purpose”. The role of the NCAS is to assess doctors’ clinical performance and provide advice on how to handle particular situations.The research concentrated on 6,179 referrals that were made to the NCAS between April 2001 and March 2012. It found that five in every thousand doctors were referred every year. They also found certain trends within those referrals. For instance:• There were more referrals for gynaecologists, obstetricians and psychiatrists than any other specialism
• A male doctor was more than twice as likely to be referred as a female doctor
• Doctors who qualified outside of the UK were more than twice as likely to be referred against their UK qualified colleagues.However, perhaps the most interesting statistic was the conclusion that older doctors were more likely to pose a risk to patients than their younger colleagues. The study found that doctors aged 55 or over were six times more likely to be referred compared to doctors under 35.So what does this mean? Should patients be wary of older doctors? Should this evidence be interpreted literally as evidence that older doctors make more mistakes?Ben Ward comments: “The results have to be interpreted in the context of a doctor’s career. These statistics do not reflect the trends that I have encountered when handling clinical negligence claims and I would suggest that the results need to be treated very cautiously. There are a number of possible explanations for the findings. Firstly, doctors at the relatively early stages of their careers are responsible for far fewer patients. Whilst they may review, diagnose and treat patients it is often the case that the ultimate responsibility for that patient will fall to a more senior doctor. Also it is likely that more senior doctors, as with most professions, see more patients, and deal with the more complex cases, than their younger colleagues.My advice would be to accept any offer for your illness to be reviewed by the most senior GP or Consultant and not to demand to be seen by his or her more junior colleague on the basis of the above findings!”


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