Last week I reported on the New England Journal of Medicine’s report of how doctors are open to litigation for using formerly free bedside tests. This week the Independent has described how doctors are currently being sued for writing prescriptions for benzodiazepines.
A professor quoted in the Independent makes the worrying claim:
“With around a million long-term users, the [legal] defence unions will at some point decide that these cases are indefensible and GPs will have to pay their own costs.” (Independent: 29.12.11)
The debate is far from clear cut, doctors have a responsibility to tell patients when the drugs they are prescribed are addictive and explain the consequences. Drugs however, are of course given to patients with detailed instructions and safety information. It seems bizarre that a patient could fail to realise that benzodiazepines are an addictive drug and it is regressive to blame doctors for a patient’s negative reaction if the patient was made aware of the risks.
This is a topic worth taking a close interest in even if you are neither doctor nor a current patient. Benzodiazepines like alprazolam are quite addictive and patients have a right to know the facts, however if doctors are made personally liable for every risk present in prescribing drugs then we will end up in an Orwellian situation where doctors will be reluctant to risk prescribing drugs that actually have a powerful effect. After all, the NHS spend four million pounds a year on homoeopathy. In the dystopian reality we are creating, doctors can be sued for prescribing real drugs, which of course carry a real risk; but homoeopaths can not be sued for prescribing magic beans with no active ingredient whatsoever, which carry no risk, except the obvious risk of doing nothing at all.
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