Doctors in degree of doubt

January 26, 1996

So much for the theory that MPs with small majorities get cautious as elections approach. Michael Stern, Conservative MP for Bristol North-West, edged out his Labour challenger by 45 votes in 1992, but risked offending the medical vote as he sought to defend the sanctity of the doctorate in a Commons adjournment debate last week.

His concern, that the title "doctor" was being appropriated by those not strictly entitled to it by virtue of a higher degree, will have been music to the ears of those whose years of study are rewarded by the response "so you're not a real doctor, then", though it may enlighten those like the airline crew who once summoned a palaeontologist to tend to a sick passenger.

Mr Stern might have gone for the soft target and complained about rap artists - Dr Dre has no vote in Britain, never mind Bristol North-West. Instead he chose to complain of "a practice that has grown up through centuries of usage . . . incorrect in law and in fact", and the possibility that the bachelors in medicine might soon be joined by vets and dentists.

Junior health minister Gerry Malone, replying for the Government, cited the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on usage and argued that, provided there were no abuses by charlatans passing themselves off as medics: "I frankly see no problems, and no need to embark on regulation of the term 'doctor'." Oddly, he failed to mention that his wife is a medic, without a PhD.

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