Putting patients first: that is all I have tried to do

In today’s Herald the following news article by Helen McArdle features along with her analysis below.

A PSYCHIATRIST said he was “gaslighted” by his own professional body after openly criticising its stance on antidepressant withdrawal and conflicts of interest.

Dr Peter Gordon, an experienced old age psychiatrist from Bridge of Allan, resigned from the Royal College of Psychiatrists Scotland in November last year.

In his resignation letter – which he subsequently published on his online blog – Dr Gordon criticised the College’s treatment of patients who had suffered “less than positive, and sometimes harmful, effects of psychiatric interventions including prescribed medications”.

He said the College was too close to the pharmaceutical industry, adding: “as a direct consequence informed consent and realistic psychiatry are compromised”.

Within days, however, Dr Gordon was shocked to learn that Dr John Crichton – the chairman of the College in Scotland and vice-president of its UK body – had contacted the medical director of NHS Lothian directly to raise concerns about Dr Gordon’s mental health.

“We’re supposed to be encouraged to have freedom to speak up and put patients first. That’s all I’ve tried to do.

“I just felt like I had been gaslighted.”

In emails seen by the Herald, Dr Crichton, a forensic psychiatrist and adviser to the Scottish Government, denies this claim and insisted he had genuine concerns for Dr Gordon’s welfare at the time.

Dr Gordon, who works at St John’s Hospital in West Lothian, has been an outspoken campaigner for greater transparency around antidepressants after trying to take his own life in 2004 as a result of severe withdrawal symptoms when he attempted to wean himself off Seroxat.

Read more: Scots psychiatrist spearheading campaign for transparency in medicine

The married father-of-two had been originally prescribed the medication to alleviate anxiety and later spent more than a year very slowly reducing his dose.

Despite this, stopping Seroxat triggered his only episode of depression and left him feeling suicidal.

Dr Gordon, an NHS doctor for 26 years, resumed taking the antidepressant and said he is too scared to try stopping again.

Following Dr Crichton’s intervention in December, Dr Gordon was referred to NHS Lothian’s occupational health department who subsequently gave him a clean bill of health and confirmed he was fit to work.

He has recently returned to St John’s two days a week.

It comes as the latest workforce figures for NHS Scotland revealed that vacancies for consultant psychiatrists are at a record high, having doubled to more than 80 in the past four years.

Read more: The patients hooked on antidepressants - and harmed by withdrawal

Dr Gordon believes he has been seen as a troublemaker by psychiatry’s leaders for speaking openly about his own experience of withdrawal, as well as campaigning for greater transparency around potential conflicts of interest such as links to drug manufacturers.

In 2014, Dr Gordon petitioned the Scottish Parliament for a ‘Sunshine Act’ which would require doctors to declare all payments and the cash value of gifts they had received on a publicly accessible register.He said patients deserved to know whether medical professionals including GPs and psychiatrists, had been paid by commercial companies.

In the months before his resignation, Dr Gordon had also made a Subject Access Request to the College seeking copies of all communications relating to him.

In response, he received more than 300 pages of documents, of which 93 A4 sides were completely redacted and 94 had blacked out everything except a subject heading, date and address.

The remainder was also heavily redacted, but included an email where Dr Gordon was described as “being quite difficult”.

Dr Gordon is the only working psychiatrist in Scotland who has spoken out about antidepressant withdrawal to express his belief that the problem is more widespread than the pharmaceutical industry or profession want to admit.

He said: “I am absolutely certain that this was an effort to marginalise me and question my credibility, maybe even to silence me.

“But this is a doctor who knows nothing about me.

“I’m not a critical psychiatrist. It would upset me deeply if anyone thought I was trying to undermine people who have had positive experiences from antidepressants.

“I’m just openly asking questions about ethics, transparency and patient safety.”

Marion Brown, a psychotherapist from Helensburgh who has been petitioning MSPs on prescription pill harm, said: “This is happening to people who raise issues – they’re silenced.“As patients and patient campaigners, people have tried to silence us. But they mostly just ignore us.

“But Peter Gordon, because of who he is, I’m sure he has been seen as a threat.”

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists Scotland said: “All medical practitioners have a duty to protect patients and must raise concern about a colleague’s health if there is a patient safety concern.

“It would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

A spokesman for NHS Lothian said it was unable to comment on matters relating to individual staff members.


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