Proceedings of a symposium HELD AT THE Royal College of General Practitioners on Thursday 21 October 1971

One of the main ideas behind a symposium on ‘Evaluation in the Health Services’ was to help establish a fruitful dialogue between clinicians, planners, sociologists, economists and others.

All of these might share a common awareness of the need to subject the operations of the health services to critical examination, but it was felt that communications between different disciplines, particularly between clinicians on the one hand and social scientists and planners on the other, could be much improved.

In the event the symposium clearly demonstrated the width of the communications gap, especially between clinicians and others, though only a disappointingly small number of clinicians were actually able to be present. Language, in fact, tended to be a barrier rather than a means of communication.

In view of this it is hardly surprising that no concrete conclusions came out of the symposium. In fact, returns from a follow-up questionnaire sent to participants suggested this would only have been possible if we had restricted the scope of the symposium to one specific area, such as research methodology. However, since our primary objective was to try to establish some sort of communication between the participants of different disciplines, this was never seriously considered. Another comment was that we would, perhaps, have been better advised to organise a two or three day residential symposium in order to give new ideas time to germinate. But this was not a practical possibility.

Although no conclusions were forthcoming there is nevertheless reason to believe that the symposium served a useful purpose. The follow-up questionnaire was returned by two-thirds of respondents and of these 61 percent thought the event was useful or very useful. Twenty nine percent thought it was of some use while only 11 percent thought it not useful. No one was so uncharitable to place it in the fifth category ‘a waste of time’. As expected, those who thought it relatively useful felt the main value was its demonstration of problems of communication, and, to a lesser extent, the opportunity it provided for an insight into the approaches of different disciplines.

Of course any credit due must go to the speakers themselves and to the other participants whether they contributed verbally or not. It was their interaction which was the primary purpose and the main achievement of the event