In the latest reform of the National Health Service great emphasis has been placed on the achievement and maintenance of quality. Mechanisms for ensuring this are being set up under the general title of “clinical governance”. What is the meaning of this term? The metaphor behind the phrase is of navigation through stormy seas, but who guides the helmsman? Clinical ethics committees could have a part to play in these changes, provided their role is properly understood. Clinical governance is concerned with management according to an agreed set of aims. The task of ethics committees is Socratic rather than managerial. They should ask fundamental questions about the ethical norms of the services provided and give critical appraisal of the moral character of institutional policies. If these tasks are carried out then governance may become a watchword rather than just another buzzword.
- National Health Service (NHS)
- ethics committees
- Socratic method NHS
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Alastair Campbell, MA, BD, ThD, is Professor of Ethics in Medicine and Director of the Centre for Ethics in Medicine in the Medical School of the University of Bristol. He acts as an Ethics Consultant to the clinical ethics committee of the Royal United Hospitals Trust, Bath.