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Our View: Do doctors think they should be above the law?

THE GOVERNMENT’S attempt to make Cyprus’ roads safer has stumbled on objections from the Cyprus Medical Association (CMA), which seems more concerned about protecting the interests of its members than improving the safety for road users.

Once again the CMA has shown itself to be more like a trade union than an organisation ensuring high professional standards and ethical practices among its members. How else could its opposition to making doctors accountable for the competence certificates they would be issuing to elderly drivers be interpreted? Who should be held responsible for the competence certificates issued, other than the doctors who sign them?

The row with the government was sparked by the justice minister Ionas Nicolaou’s decision to make the tests carried out on elderly driver wanting to have their licence renewed reliable. A law was drafted making it compulsory for drivers who reached the age of 75 to undergo a medical test every year in order to have their licence renewed. To ensure that the test was carried out and doctors did not do favours to patients, a provision was included in the law making it a criminal offence for a doctor to issue a certificate without conducting all the necessary tests.

It was a perfectly reasonable provision, given the smallness of our society and the way things work in Cyprus. Everyone knows the ease with which doctors sign unjustifiably long sick leave certificates for their patients, because they are accountable to nobody. In the public service it is standard practice for an employee, who objects to a transfer to take months of sick leave, sign by an unprofessional doctor.

Taking into account this widespread unprofessional behaviour, the government was correct to include the provision making the issuing of a certificate without a test or in the knowledge that a person was unfit to drive a criminal offence.

The CMA claims that an elderly driver that caused an accident may have become unfit to drive after the medical test had been conducted and a doctor would be wrongly charged. This is possible and on the very rare occasion it might happen, the doctor would be able to defend him/herself in court.

The truth is that the CMA has no legitimate reason to object, as the doctors who do their job professionally and refuse to violate the law for their patients have nothing to fear. The fear of prosecution might raise professional standards, something the CMA should applaud, instead of arguing that doctors should be entitled to break the law with impunity. It seems the doctors want the social status and respect their profession commands but none of the responsibilities that come with the job.

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