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Public to have more say on medical council

BY DWIGHT BELLANFANTE Observer staff reporter

Sunday, October 10, 2004    

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THE Medical Council of Jamaica (MCJ), long seen by critics as a clique that protects its own, has welcomed proposed legislative changes that will add three members from outside the medical field to its executive.

Last week, in a show of bipartisan support, Parliament gave the nod for the amendment of the Medical Act, which includes adding members from the fields of law and accounting as well as a consumer rights advocate to the MCJ executive.

MCJ registrar Dr John McHardy said members support the proposed changes to the make-up of the executive and had, in fact, started putting similar changes in place even before the bill was tabled.

"We had previously increased the number of non-elected members to three persons out of a total of 12 members," he said.

Charles Piper, the only lawyer on the executive, also supported the move.

The bill is expected to have smooth passage through the Senate, and health minister John Junor anticipates that Governor-General Sir Howard Cooke will sign the legislation into law soon.

The changes, the minister hopes, will give members of the public greater say within the MCJ, a regulatory organisation which has the power to disbar medical practitioners because of unprofessional conduct. The council also establishes standards for the practice of medicine, regulates the profession by assessing the suitability of persons being licensed as doctors, and accredits the institutions from which doctors are accepted.

"The aim is to increase the presence of civil society on the council and get the views of the wider public factored into the decisions of the council," Junor told the Sunday Observer.

In addition to Piper and Dr McHardy, the executive now includes:

. Dr Trevor McCartney, chairman;

. Dr Muriel Lowe;

. Professor Lawson Douglas;

. Dr Wesley Bernard;

. Dr Ray Fraser;

. Dr Barbara Johnson;

. Dr Aggrey Irons;

. Dr Wendell Guthrie;

. Dr Barry Wint, chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health; and

. Professor Owen Morgan, dean of the UWI Medical School.

This mix, Dr McHardy argued, ensured that vital institutions such as the medical school of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Ministry of Health were represented on the MCJ.

But Junor's bill seeks to go further by getting members that are even further removed from the field of medicine.

According to the bill to Amend the Medical Act, the council as it now stands does not adequately serve the general public.

"Comprised predominantly of medical practitioners... the interests and concerns of members of the public are not being sufficiently articulated in the council," said the bill. "It is considered desirable that there be more non-medical persons on the council who would speak for the public, thereby enabling the council to be a forum for discussion and debate between doctors and patients."

Chairman of the caucus of Cuban-trained doctors Dr Lloyd Brooks agrees. He anticipates that the widening of the regulatory body to include non-medical personnel will, in the long run, benefit both patients and doctors trained overseas.

Changing the composition of the council, he argued, would lead to greater transparency and objectivity, as well as "defeat narrow self-interest".

"Some medical practitioners seek to. keep dominating by keeping the membership of the profession small," he argued. "(There is now) a small, protected group, taking medicine out of the reach of ordinary people. Health care should be more accessible, while improving the rapport between doctors and patient and other health-care providers."

In addition to changes in the composition of the council, the bill also stipulates that members of the medical profession have to provide proof of refresher courses every year before being certified. Junor told Parliament last Tuesday that this was to ensure that medical professionals are kept up-to-date with the latest technology by attending seminars, workshops and conferences.

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