There is public concern about medical errors. In Britain, the Bristol Inquiry is the paradigmatic example that focuses professional and public attention on the safety of medical interventions. In the US the Institute of Medicine's recent report To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System (1999) was widely seen on both sides of the Atlantic as confirming what most already feared, that medical interventions were accompanied by unacceptably high levels of preventable harms (Barach & Small, 2000). The response to these public concerns has been multifold. In the UK clinical governance was introduced in April 1999, principally to focus attention on continuously improving the quality of clinical care. At the same time, the arrangements for the registration of doctors by the General Medical Council (GMC) was under review and there was an expectation that NHS trusts would bring consultants, who hitherto had been regarded as independent practitioners outside any supervisory system or arrangement, within an appraisal system. It has become clear that this appraisal system will be a component part of the GMC's revalidation of doctors (GMC, 2000). What is clear is that these varying systems are designed to restore public trust by providing an open process, which has the confidence of the profession, management and public alike. In this paper we aim to discuss the historical development of appraisal as a system for reviewing the performance of individual practitioners, suggest a method for appraising senior medical staff and finally to discuss the limitations and problems inherent in the introduction of such a system.
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