Communication with a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

My communication to Prof Rob Howard:

Monday 19th November 2018.
Bridge of Allan.

Dear Professor Howard
I find this public comment by you distressing and dismissive of the potential of learning from experience:

“Almost unbelievable that Joe [Dr Joseph Hayes] and Sameer [Dr Sameer Jauhar] have to make these points (again) and that Davies [Dr James Davies] and Read [Professor John Read] have been so angrily dismissive of their concerns. Never let the facts or methodology get in the way of a good story or ideological position…” [This was in relation to a critique of this systematic review on antidepressant withdrawal]

Professor Howard, I nearly died in my withdrawal from my dependence on paroxetine.

Kind wishes

Dr Peter J Gordon
Psychiatrist for Older Adults
NHS Scotland

19 November 2018

Dear Professor Howard,
You ask for a “balanced discussion”. I agree that this is the right place to start. I would suggest that “almost unbelievable” was not a fair starting point.

The biologist, sociologist, and philosopher Patrick Geddes, was of the view that “there needed to be a synthesis of all new knowledge and such knowledge needed to be based on experience as much as theory.”

I share (in general terms) concern about the quality of “evidence”. But where is the evidence to support long term prescribing of antidepressants? It is an indictment on our profession that antidepressants have been prescribed for 50 years, and apart from the limited Geddes study of almost 15 years ago, we have no EBM to base prescribing of antidepressants for longer than two years. Nearly 1 in 5 Scots are now taking antidepressants, many of whom are taking them indefinitely.

I acknowledge, of course, the inherent weakness in offering evidence of experience. However if our profession ever loses sight of this then I would indeed be “upset”.

Kindest wishes
Peter Gordon

August 2019

Dear Professor Howard
Thank you for replying. I recall the content of our correspondence differently and recall being left uneasy by your words and that is why I felt it best to suggest that we do not communicate further. Yes, we can stick to this instruction.

You will understand that I wrote to you today as my understanding of College Core Values is rather different to yours and because I resigned from the College over this issue and the lack of College support for Sunshine legislation. I appreciate that we have different views on this and that is okay – but I do worry about the harm to patients that might be caused by not paying due attention to these issues.

All the very best wishes and thank you for replying.
Aye Peter

18 September 2020

Dear Professor Robert Howard,
Thank you for this. I am grateful.

I felt that I needed to reply because I do not agree with your summary. My concern was with behaviour by professionals that departed from the Core Values of the College and GMC Guidance on Doctors Use of Social Media. It is entirely legitimate to raise concerns about this and I want to give you one last prompt to reflect on this.

I shared your own words and set the context of the extant guidance. Meantime you have described me on social media in unpleasant terms and questioned my mental health having diagnosed me by a BINGO card.

I have not read your Tweets nor those of Dr Mark Swinton as I have found the language you used to describe me as unnecessarily derogatory and some weeks ago decided not to look at Twitter again. Other people have also experienced distress as a result of your use of language on social media and at least one individual was left suicidal as a result.

Telling truth to power is not easy and sometimes may require persistence. The intention is not to cause upset but to facilitate understanding.

I feel liberated having made the difficult decision to retire from psychiatry but can reflect warmly on the good working relationships I had with my colleagues. I will also miss the insight into the lives of others that comes from contact with patients.

I do not intend to write to you further and wish you well.


Prof Rob Howard, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a former College Dean, and recipient of a College Lifetime Achievement Award, has stated that:

(1) advocating for transparency in science is a “misguided pursuit”
(2)  Realistic Medicine has common-ground with Scientology
(3)  antidepressant withdrawal symptoms  “in his experience” [as a doctor] are “rare” and “not the issue that some are suggesting”
(4) patients who have been mis-diagnosed with dementia are “Munchausen’s portrayals”
(5) he “does not recognise” wilful blindness
(6) routinely uses demeaningly loaded, provocative, and catch-all terms to those who share harmful experiences of psychiatric treatments
(7) raising legitimate concerns in relation to College Core Values  amounts to “harassment” and is a reflection of “sadistic” behaviour.
(8) those who speak up about negative experiences of psychiatric interventions“need to reflect on their behaviour”, yet Professor Howard has never acknowledged the distress that his behaviour routinely causes to many vulnerable people/patients on social media.

Testimonial for Dr Peter Gordon [retired NHS psychiatrist]:

Professor Sir Simon Wessely was President of the College before President Burn. In February of this year, at the time of my retiral from Medicine, I shared some of the kind messages that I had from colleagues, patients and carers.  Sir Simon kindly sent me this message by reply: “I would also like to wish you all the best for your retirement, and to recognise the depth of your commitment to your patients and the NHS over the years, and also to your honesty and integrity in a world where both these qualities can be short supply.  I wish you well”

All communications to and from Prof Howard have been kept as evidence given the potential for misleading narratives to be presented in the public domain.

Comments about Prof Rob Howard’s social media behaviour  by a range of individuals:

If an organisation such as the RCPsych wishes to aspire to being the arbiter of professionalism, and to assume the position of power that comes with this role, then that organisation and its represenatives must be willing to be held publicly accountable when they are perceived to depart from the values they collectively espouse.

“Prof Howard treats harmed patients with disdain”

“Prof Howard has a vested interest in discrediting harmed patient safety campaigners on this platform who are challenging the authority of psychiatry”

“This is all very odd to me. We’re patients — what power do they think we have? Also, many of us ARE psych patients. Because we speak up for our own safety doesn’t mean we are stigmatizing. Many of my friends and family still take psych meds. I have never shamed a soul.”

“I see you are denigrating harmed patients again, Prof Howard, shame on you, you bring your profession into disrepute.”

“Professor Howard has appointed himself the performative defender of Samei-psychiatry.”

“I find Professor Howard’s remarks offensive and insulting to those harmed by psychiatric interventions”

“What I have read this last 2 weeks from Prof Howard on Twitter WAS ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS I needed support early hours from 111 services the other night. I am still recuperating now. He [Prof Howard] did much harm to me psychologically this week. I was soooo triggered about my harm and He [Prof Howard] let it be known where people like me belong. Cruel man . . . no compassion or empathy at all” [capitalisation and emphasis as written by the social media contributor]

“The more he [Prof Howard] tweets, the worse he looks. Unsympathetic, huge lack of understanding, unwillingness to listen, zero empathy. Pretty much the main traits you wouldn’t want in a Mental health professional”

“Do you not think it is important to uphold college values Professor? What is the point of having them on your website then? And please stop your churlish passive aggressive patronising.”

“The disdain is very clear, seems to be common amongst a group of Twitter psychiatrists who band together. The Royal College of Psychiatrists Core values are an illusion …. You can see quite clearly the contempt they have for other professionals and for harmed patients as well.”

“[the] mocking by this person [Prof Howard] [has continued] for days.”

“Prof Howard, its honestly its not like that. My wish is to see real change and an abandonment of damaging psychiatric myths for those that come after me. I’m not a “these people” I’m a Dad who thinks the way we were misled has no place within regulated medicine. They nearly took my boy.”

“That you belittle and try to silence us is callous and cruel.”

“Luke here, the son of the aristocrat you were referring to. Yes my life was turned upside by withdrawal from psych drugs and the subsequent denial of members of your profession. It took me four years before I could leave the house and …I still have tinnitus and nerve pain ten years later. I spend much of my time trying to ensure that this doesn’t happen to other people by working with policy makers and medical leaders. It saddens me to see such misrepresentation of this, and the motives for doing it.”

“This person [Prof Rob Howard] already left two people expressing serious distress being in danger as a result. I’m worried he is harming people. So many good folks out there, let’s focus our attention on them and start virtuous cycle of genuine change?”

“I’m too tired to call him out [Prof Rob Howard] but I really am surprised the GMC doesn’t step in.”

“Mental health professionals/psychiatrists should be fully aware that there are many very vulnerable people on this platform and they should not behave in such a manner as to cause more despair and distress”

“Allowing physicians to systematically malign those who seek to improve their research and practice is helpful to no one.”

“I have come to the conclusion that Prof Howard is incapable of engaging in any form of discussion at all, he rarely if ever responds to harmed patients in a constructive manner”

“I know it would be different if I was lauding and applauding the profession of psychiatry, if I had a mental illness and said I was benefitting from my treatment, then he would fall over himself to say how brave I was to speak out.”

“It is the attitude of the professionals who cause the divisions on this platform, harmed patients are reporting their harms, and expecting action from the profession that is responsible for those harms”

“Prof Howard likes to portray harmed patients as the villains compared to the heroes who take their meds and describe their benefits, he is one of the most divisive professionals I have come across.”

“The irony. Not ‘seeing’ a post on wilful blindness as constructive. You couldn’t make it up.”

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