Sunday, 18 December 2016

Conspiracies against the laity part 3298: the medical profession.



Well wouldn’t you know it. A surgeon who transmitted antibiotic resistant superbug during operations on people’s hearts doesn’t want you to know he did.

Apparently John Chen Lu ‘a heart surgeon who infected 11 of his patients with a lethal bug, five of whom died, has taken his fight to keep his past secret to the High Court as he claims revealing the full history is “irrational” and will end his career.’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10658014/Surgeon-who-transmitted-lethal-heart-bug-fights-to-keep-past-secret.html. (By the way, one of the joys of this article is to see the journalist mis-spell ‘principle’  over and over again.) Now I’m not very interested in the facts of this case. Mr Lu claims he is no greater risk to patients than any other heart surgeon now he has been cleared of antibiotic resistant strain of staphylococcus epidermidis. Some senior colleagues apparently do not agree and the relevant Hospitals trust has placed relatively onerous conditions on him returning to surgery. I’ve no idea, but none of this really matters. What really matters is the general secrecy of the medical profession about the quality and performance of doctors.


I commented some time ago on the immorality of the profession for failing to speak out about known dangerous colleagues. http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2012/09/dangerous-doctors-and-immoral-doctors/  In this particular case there is an element of unfairness in picking on Mr Lu. I’m quite sure many things we’d like to know about heart surgeons are being kept secret from us because we (in their opinion) are irrational and cannot be trusted with the truth. And, indeed, it is hardly surprising they have this opinion, because the welfarist ideologues responsible for the welfarist ideology that underpins the health service in which they work generally regards the public as irrational and ignorant of their own best interest. They are generally confident that it is a far far better thing they do in running our lives that in letting us run them ourselves. So why should we be told about the surgeon in whose hands our life is placed?

I’m not sure what there is to do about this. The health services are so corrupted by treating them as different from normal goods that it is not surprising when all sorts of weird norms and practices result. Any supply of anything that is unconstrained by vigourous competition and undisciplined by the need to respond to what the paying customer wants is liable to end up like this— a very very old point by now: Adam Smith pointed it out some time ago.

Nevertheless, the openish secret (secret because deliberately and legally suppressed, openish because obvious to anyone who has had the misfortune to get caught up in them) of the corruption of the family courts by their systematic secrecy has now become less a secret and more open, due largely to the rejection of secrecy by the new head of that court (shame on the previous heads). So I suppose there is some dim hope that the health service gods might be shamed into telling us supplicants of the health service a bit more about who is treating us. But I’m not holding my breath. The incentives are all skewed and we only hear when, as it rather looks in this case, the health service gods wish merely to disencumber themselves of an embarrassment.

Originally at http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk

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