Service proposed for doctors with drug abuse issues

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From the Medical Independent

The Medical Council has received a proposal from a group wishing to establish Ireland ’s first official support service for doctors, interns and medical students suffering with substance misuse problems, the Medical Independent (MI) has learned.

The Sick Doctors Scheme (SDS), which is currently the only support service for doctors with substance abuse issues, has operated as a voluntary service for a number of years. However, Dr Ide Delargy, who has been director of the scheme since 2006, said it needs designated resources and funding to reach doctors at risk of falling prey to addiction problems.

 “What I ’m proposing is that we have a designated unit site. We have a designated staff. We have a range of experts that we can draw on and have as part of a panel on a retainer basis. We would have an agreement with an in-patient unit that those beds could be commissioned on an as-needs basis, ” Dr Delargy told MI.

 “That ’s the way we hope it will become, much more professionalised and formalised. At the moment it works well but going forward, we need to model it along the lines of international best practice. ”

Dr Delargy said the service will likely be modeled on the UK-based Practitioner Health Programme, which was granted NHS funding shortly after its establishment in 2008.

 “The logic of it is that physicians and medical professionals are a hard to reach group, ” she explained.

 “[Doctors] tend to avoid the traditional medical services, so the doctor who gets into difficulty with alcohol or substance misuse is not going to go through the normal channels for that. They often present quite late in their difficulties and they tend to do corridor consultations rather than direct clinical consultation. Therefore, it is considered that specific programmes focusing on physician health get better outcomes and also attract doctors to come forward earlier. ”

The programme will be for doctors of all grades and Dr Delargy envisages that it will eventually be expanded to include pharmacists and dentists, as in the UK. However, her immediate focus is on extending the scheme to medical students.

 “The idea behind that is that doctors would start developing problems as far back as in their medical student days and if we can intervene early, you get a far better outcome, ” she said.

The Medical Council confirmed to MI that it has received a proposal from the SDS and it is currently under consideration.