Chris Lancelot: Let's turn general practice into a liberal world

The sight of David Cameron and Nick Clegg posing together in front of No.10 like two partners at a civil wedding will stay with us for a long time. 'A new kind of politics,' commented Mr Cameron.

The GP Record, by Fran Orford
The GP Record, by Fran Orford

It certainly seems that way. The two sides seem to be acting with commendable maturity, each considerately sensitive to the other's differing beliefs. It has led to a more mature politics than I can ever remember - like debates in the House of Lords, which are always thoughtful and courteous, unlike the childish point-scoring of the Commons.

Can this principle be extended to the NHS, I wonder? Might we start pulling together to forge useful partnerships instead of having relationships built on rivalries?

We could begin with general practice. Could the DoH stop thinking of GPs as 'failed hospital specialists', respecting us instead as 'consultants in family medicine'? Maybe PCTs could do the same: both might then recognise that, as skilled specialists, GPs' views need taking seriously.

Another rift concerns personal belief and medicine. Many in healthcare have profound religious convictions. Yet a previous Labour health minister suggested that doctors should not become gynaecologists if their beliefs prevented them from performing abortions.

In a free society the truly liberal approach (the principle, not the party) is to recognise the importance of individual philosophies. As Voltaire said: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'

A truly free, mature society will always make space for the individual's point of view. This means always allowing healthcare workers the right to opt out of activities which run counter to their personal values - such as abortion, contraception, extra-marital or under-age contraception, homosexual adoption, stem cell treatment, pig-derived medicines and euthanasia - and able instead to transfer these patients to colleagues without suffering any loss of face or loss of employment. We may not agree with an individual's standpoint, but respecting their absolute right to disengage from the things they believe to be wrong is what a free, liberal and grown-up society is all about.

Dr Lancelot is a GP from Lancashire. Email him at

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