Saturday, January 30, 2010

Doctors and dentists who 'substance abuse' helped

An article posted on January 28th by BBC News:

A pilot project giving special help to doctors and dentists with health problems has treated 184 people in its first year.

By Jane Dreaper, Health Correspondent, BBC News

62% of them had mental health problems, while 36% were battling drink or drug addiction.

Of the 78 who weren't working when they came into contact with the scheme, 46% returned to work.

The medical director of the project said she had been surprised at the extent of substance misuse.

The project has been hailed a success and there are plans to expand it.

A third of the medics contacted the service because they were already involved in disciplinary proceedings.

Depression was the mental health problem most commonly diagnosed by the NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) - but the service also uncovered six cases of psychosis that hadn't previously been treated.

Of the 67 doctors and dentists who attended the service with addiction problems, 51 were drinking too much alcohol while 16 were abusing a range of drugs - including heroin, ketamine and cocaine.


The PHP was set up because NHS clinicians are often embarrassed to seek help for these sorts of problems.

It also has to ensure that patients aren't put at risk by doctors and dentists who are unwell.

Five of the scheme's patients removed themselves from their duties after being told they should do so - and on two occasions, the PHP contacted the regulators to express concern about its patients.

Psychiatrists, anaesthetists and paediatricians were the specialties most commonly attending the service.

The PHP's medical director, Dr Clare Gerada, said: "This has been a real eye-opener.

"I thought at first we'd see a bit of stress and burn-out. But it soon became apparent how troubled some of these doctors and dentists were.

"I've been surprised at the degree and extent of substance misuse that we've seen.

"They're not the easiest patients in the world - and behind them are patients who could potentially be harmed.

"They tend to present at a late stage, but very few dropped out of treatment, and most of them tend to do well."


More than 80% of the doctors and dentists who were treated for addiction were shown to have stayed abstinent afterwards - compared with about 10% of the general population.

The service tests their hair and blood for evidence of alcohol or substance abuse.

PHP has so far operated in Greater London. Talks have begun to set up similar NHS services in Newcastle and Avon.

The chief medical officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, had the idea for the service.

He said: "The problem is there in all medical workplaces around the world.

"Previously, doctors found it extremely difficult to access appropriate and confidential care.

"From the number of patients accessing PHP during its first year, it's clear there is a need for this highly specialised service."

Photograph courtesy of the Practitioner Health Programme.

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