Prof Rob Howard

What follows is an archive of some of the contributions made to social media by Professor Robert Howard, former Dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The full and necessary context for all of these contributions can be found on the author’s twitter timeline @ProfRobHoward where he introduces himself as follows: “University College London psychiatrist. Independent trialist. Looks for better treatments in mental health and dementia. Against unkind antipsychiatry, unbelievable dementia portrayals, false hope treatments”. The GMC Register confirms that Prof Rob Howard is registered with a licence to practise and that his GMC Responsible Officer is Dr Vincent Kirchner, Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director for Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.

This archive – which appears to present a pattern of language – has been shared for one reason alone: to encourage respectful and constructive communications by all.

In December of 2018 The Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Psychological Society came together to confirm a common set of ideals and principles. These were published in the Lancet and included the principle that “good debate” should be “respectful and constructive”.

A reminder of the full set of Royal College of Psychiatrists values:

Dr Kate Lovett, the Current Dean, shared this advice on the 5th January 2020: “The General Medical Council are the medical regulator and have clear guidelines re use of social media. Most employers also have policies they require employees to abide by.”

The following has been divided into two sections:

  1. Section ONE: Prof Rob Howard in his own words
  2. Section TWO: Comments aboutProf Rob Howard’s  behaviour and language

Section One: Prof Rob Howard in his own words

The following statements have all been made openly on social media by Prof Rob Howard:

Dr Samei Huda [4 Nov 2018]: “Professors who incite bad feelings against people who accurately critique their research should not be in science” Prof Rob Howard [4 Nov 2018]: “They are not actually in Science at all. Sad to see the tactics, so effectively and damagingly deployed by Trump, copied by these people to manipulate and harm vulnerable patient groups.”

Prof Rob Howard [24 Aug 2019]: “Keep it up Samei. You are patient, lucid and professional in your tweets. The threats you receive indicate only that these people know they are losing the argument.” Dr Sameer Jauhar [24 Aug 2019]: “Bullies. Rob is correct. You’re a threat. How dare you question things? Know your place.”

Prof Rob Howard on Dr George Dawson, MD and his ‘Real Psychiatry’ blog [16 Oct 2019]: “I have learned a lot from George’s posts and admire his thoughtfulness and modesty. I’d want him as my psychiatrist.” [This Tweet is included because Dr George Dawson has written  a summary of the  ‘The Professional Identity of a Psychiatrist’ that includes the following ‘Interpersonal Skills’]

Dr Samei Huda [7 Feb 2020]: “It’s funny how antipsychiatrists only pause from hate filled insults and making complaints only to accuse others of being disrespectful”. Prof Rob Howard [7 Feb 2020]: “Certainly my experience.”

Prof Rob Howard responding to a thread about “lack of kindness” [8 March 2020]: “There’s no excuse or justification for this and I sometimes doubt the sincerity and validity of some of people on Twitter. Possible to have very positive interactions and constructive disagreements, but some are just looking for punch-bags.”

Prof Rob Howard to Tyler Black, MD [8 March 2020]: “A tiny minority of angry and frankly aggressive people on Twitter, whose claims to have somehow been damaged by Psychiatrists or our treatments are impossible to evaluate, can make this a lowering place. They are a noisy, unrepresentative minority.”

Prof Rob Howard replying to Dr Annie Hickox and Dr Jo Edge [2 May 2020]: “There’s never much kindness in antipsychiatry. “Dr Jo Edge [2 May 2020]: “It’s incredible, to be honest. Psychiatry can be bad enough but this lot are just disgusting.”

Prof Rob Howard to Dr Samei Huda on the Council for Evidenced Based Psychiatry [9 May 2020]: “’Shadowy’ is the word I think I used for them before . . . Do they do useful public service?” Dr Samei Huda responds [9 May 2020]: “Of course not”

Prof Rob Howard in response to an article titled ‘Psychiatric medication remains heavily stigmatized’ by Jonathan N Stea [12 May 2020]: “Amazes me and shames us all that this even needs to be said, let alone that a patient needs to be brave to speak about it.”

Prof Rob Howard to Dr Jonathan N Stea [12 May 2020]: “I don’t think it is confused at all. These people know exactly what they are doing, are well organised and driven. But it is certainly stigmatising, dangerous and downright nasty . . . There’s an essential lack of kindness or compassion for the suffering of others.”

Prof Rob Howard, asked if he supported Sunshine legislation? [23 May 2020]: “I support doctors being transparent about the payments from Pharma and other conflicts of interest, of course. This should already be regulated through professional bodies . . . Censoring all who have been paid by Pharma obscures [the objective view]” . . “I Just don’t think laws are the answer. Doctors need to be more prepared to call it out when it matters. Misguided pursuit of this by individuals, who have an antipsychiatry or anti-profession agenda is counterproductive.”

Prof Rob Howard in responding to an assertion made by Dr Samei Huda on psychiatry and transparency [29 May 2020]: “Psychiatry‘s usual trolls are not going to like this. Not at all. I predict we’ll see their own analysis, using a selective and hard to understand analysis of available data, showing that psychiatrists are actually the very worst of all doctors here.”

Prof Rob Howard [6 June 2020]: “I don’t believe prescribers deliberately downplay side-effects. Can only speak for myself and the patients that I treat. Advance warning of common problems helps to maintain compliance if these occur. I’ve always withdrawn drugs cautiously because of illness recurrence concerns.”

Prof Rob Howard [6 June 2020] on this published article on Wilful blindness: “I’m afraid I don’t see this as a constructive post or one that invites dialogue.”

Prof Rob Howard on harm resulting from psychiatric drugs [6 June 2020]: “It’s a desperately divisive issue. Difficult to argue with people who present their own case as evidence, when, as it should be, their full medical history is known only to them and their doctors. But there isn’t evidence for large scale ‘prescribed harm’ from scientific studies.”

Prof Rob Howard [6 June 2020]: “I think people who speak up about their positive experiences are very brave indeed.”

Prof Rob Howard [7 June 2020]: ” We don’t use drugs if we can avoid them and I don’t recognise ‘drug cascades’ or ‘merry go rounds’. We recognise withdrawal phenomena, but I would say that the jury is still out on how common and potentially severe these can be.”

Prof Rob Howard [7 June 2020] “The experience of many of us – who follow our patients after discontinuation – because we have always been worried about relapse – has been that these phenomena are not common and generally resolve quickly.”

Prof Rob Howard [11 June 2020]: “Do read this thread for a number of brave and insightful views of engagement with the prescribed harm community from non-psychiatrists.”

Prof Rob Howard to somebody who had shared harm experienced as a result of psychiatric interventions [15 June 2020]: “If you can’t take mental illness and its treatment seriously, that is entirely a matter for you.”

Prof Rob Howard [25 June 2020] “I am sure that all of the critical, or even (as some of them now call themselves), “realistic” psychiatrists, will quickly denounce this too and distance themselves from Scientology’s hateful and stigmatising views on mental health disorders and their treatment.” Whilst I am now a retired psychiatrist I would indeed denounce the awful blanket statement that was shared here. However I am concerned, and baffled, that Prof Howard has chosen to include a reference to Realistic Psychiatry in his response. A few days before this Tweet, I  mentioned in an e-mail to Prof Howard that in my career as a Psychiatrist [I have never been a ‘Critical psychiatrist’] I had endaevoured to follow Realistic Psychiatry, which is an on-going Scottish Government, NHS Scotland, and RCPsych Scotland initiative. It is concerning that such a senior Psychiatrist and Former College Dean has chosen to present Realistic Psychiatry, an ethically and evidence-based approach, in this way. One is left wondering if Prof Howard’s knowledge is lacking in relation to this?

Prof Rob Howard, sarcastically, to an individual who had lost her husband as a direct consequence of a prescribed psychiatric drug: “Keep it up, guys”.

Before reading section TWO, this comment, made in the BMJ by Richard Smith it’s former Editor is worth kleeping in mind:

“Psychiatry seems to have lost its way… The response should not be to refuse to listen to criticisms… but to listen to and use them as a stimulus to deep examination of current practice.” 

Section TWO: Comments about Prof Rob Howard’s behaviour and language

Made openly on social media by a range of individuals:

At first glance it can appear unfair that the comments made about Prof Rob Howard are not attributed in the same way as the previous section. The main reason behind this approach is that, 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.”

“Any professional who is against harmed patients is against all patients.”