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Campaign for units for alcoholic GPs

GPs with drug and alcohol problems could receive treatment in five dedicated units around the UK, if campaigners succeed in winning funding from the Department of Health.

The campaign is being led by Clinicians Health Intervention Treatment and Support (CHITS), a multi-disciplinary group that includes representatives from the BMA and the Sick Doctor's Trust.

Members recently met department officials to press for new units in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They also want referral and funding mechanisms streamlined so GPs and other professionals can obtain prompt and confidential treatment.

Data from two CHITS-supported pilot units in Berkshire and Derbyshire show an assessment and treatment approach tailored to the needs of clinicians is highly effective.

Among 415 health care professionals treated between 1995 and 2003, 357 had become abstinent. The group included 155 doctors, 85 of whom were GPs.

Many of the doctors had been in contact with the GMC via its health procedures but were able to continue practising while under supervision.

The figures were presented to a Royal Society of Medicine meeting on sick doctors earlier this month by Dr Douglas Fowlie, consultant psychiatrist at the University of Aberdeen and chair of CHITS.

'Being a doctor can be very isolating and doctors are profoundly at risk,' he said. Female doctors were three times more likely to commit suicide compared with women in the general population. Alcohol-related morbidity was also three times higher in doctors.

Dr Alex Freeman, a Southampton GP and member of the BMA's Doctors in Difficulty working group, said: 'To engage with treatment, people must have confidence that it will remain confidential.

'This makes it difficult for health care professionals to access treatment and have privacy in their own localities. Anything that persuades people to come forward when they need help must be

encouraged.'

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