Sir Graeme Catto is a former Chair of the General Medical Council and the President of the College of Medicine. Here, he explains why the College is necessary and what changes he hopes it will help bring about in the NHS.
Our NHS is yet again under the spotlight. In the welter of views, one aspect has won general agreement. We all expect modern healthcare to be delivered by teams of professionals working in effective partnership with the patient. That expectation is not confined to England. It is shared across the UK despite increasing differences in the way in which health services are organised and is a driving principle for healthcare globally.
Yet our new College of Medicine is the only organisation to bring patients, scientists, doctors and all healthcare professionals together on an equal footing. That unique and powerful alliance allows us to develop a different perspective on how health services operate and what they can and should deliver in the years ahead. Evidence for the effectiveness of treatments must include the patients’ views which not infrequently differ from those of the professionals.
The College of Medicine unapologetically puts patients first. Not individual professions, specialties or specific forms of treatment, simply patients and their needs for appropriate diagnosis, therapy and above all and at all times, care.
Over time, the science will change, society’s expectations will change but people and our need for humanity and care when we are ill and vulnerable are unchanging. Healers over the ages have recognised the importance of treating the patient and not just the specific ailment. The complexity of modern medicine and the different skills of the multidisciplinary team delivering the care sometimes obscure that crucial distinction.
By supporting all the members of the healthcare team, particularly the patient, our new College will promote the delivery of high quality, clinically relevant, care. Patients, scientists, doctors and healthcare professionals from a variety of clinical disciplines are already members of the College Council and our educational programme began with a successful Conference on Cancer at Imperial College, London in December.
Why the NHS has to change
The current situation in healthcare is clearly unsustainable. Recent advances in diagnosis and treatment have not been accompanied by public or professional support for the way in which patient care is now delivered. A series of scandals has shown that healthcare professionals all too often ignore situations where patient safety is put at risk and where patients are treated in squalid conditions. Tolerating such poor practice is demeaning and de-humanising for patients and professionals alike. How is it possible for such things to happen when entry standards to the caring professions have never been higher and when so many existing organisations, their fellows and members are committed to delivering high quality clinical care?
The answer lies, at least in part, in the fragmentation of care. As a society we must change the way in which our health service is delivered. It seems strange to suggest that the solution is to focus the efforts of the healthcare team on the needs of the patient when that is precisely what good practice has done over the years. Nevertheless, achieving that aim today will require a concerted effort to overcome some unacceptable aspects of clinical practice that are now all too common.
The College of Medicine will focus on preventative medicine, improving health and well-being, appropriate self-care and engaging the public before illness strikes. It is a formidable challenge – and indicates clearly just why the College of Medicine is needed now.