This paper argues that two characteristics of social life impinge importantly upon medical attempts to maintain high ethical standards. The first is the tension between the role of ethics in protecting the patient and maintaining the solidarity of the profession. The second derives from the observation that the foundations of contemporary medical ethics were laid at a time of one-to-one doctor-patient relations while nowadays most doctors work in or are associated with large-scale organisations. Records cease to be the property of individual doctors, become available not only to other doctors but also to educational and social work personnel. Making records openly available to patients is suggested as the only antidote to this irreversible loss of individual practitioner control. The importance for doctors of understanding the nature of professional and bureaucratic organisations in order to deal with the hazards involved is stressed as is the responsibility of the General Medical Council to regulate medical competence as well as personal behaviour.
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