‘The medical untouchables’

The following is a recent opinion piece by Dr Des Spence published in the British Journal of General Practice.

I had been lined up to do the media interviews on BBC Scotland in relation to petition PE1651. However, on the day, due to changed travel arrangements, I was not available. Dr Des Spence was interviewed instead and did a better job than I could have done.

As an NHS doctor and specialist, I fully support this petition (PE1651) which calls on the Scottish parliament “to urge the Scottish Government to take action to appropriately recognise and effectively support individuals affected and harmed by prescribed drug dependence and withdrawal.”

I have submitted my response.

I feel it would be helpful to hear the views of the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland and in particular, how this matter might be considered as part of Realistic Medicine.

Three recent posts by me demonstrate the scale of competing financial interests in medical education in the UK. If you have a moment, you should have a look. Perhaps you might then share the worry that I have about this matter:

I have previously raised my own petition, PE1493, which the Scottish Public has supported. This was a petition for a Sunshine Act for Scotland, to make it mandatory for all financial conflicts of interest to be declared by healthcare professionals and academics.

My petition, supported by the public, had no support from “Realistic Medicine”. The public has had no update from the Scottish Government on my petition in 18 months. My view is that this is a shocking failure of governance and would seem to demonstrate a lack of respect for democracy.

We need a Renaissance of Generalists

I aspire to be a generalist.

We live between the microscope and the telescope. I am of the view that the art and science of being a doctor requires such necessary width of focus.

Bettina Piko argued in 2002 that we need a “renaissance of polymaths”. It saddens me to consider that the western world, in the time since, has encouraged, and supported, the greater development of specialisms.

This post is about General Practice. My wife Sian has been a GP for more than 25 years.

This week the Royal College of General Practitioners has accused the Scottish Government of “longstanding under funding” of General Practice.

1 in 4 GP practices have a vacancy in Scotland.

I found myself part of a conversation about the current and future state of General Practice on the Stephen Jardine programme, Radio Scotland, on the 14th July 2017:

Are the public being listened to?

This is a current Editorial in the BMJ:
Below are a few extracts from this editorial: In a similar vein to Carl Heneghan, I have outlined that there is a problem with the E in CME (Continuing Medical Education)

Sharing the BMJ Editors concerns about a failure of the Academy of Medical Sciences to take necessary action to ensure trust in science (EBM) and education (CME) this response was submitted:

“We could not agree more with Dr Tom Robinson in that we can only gain the trust of the public if we listen to them. One of us (Dr Peter J Gordon) raised a petition with the Scottish Parliament to consider a Sunshine Act for Scotland, and as part of this a consultation was undertaken with the Scottish public. The majority of those consulted agreed that it should be mandatory for all financial conflicts of interest to be declared on a public register. The Academy of Medical Sciences has gone no further than recommending the development of “frameworks for declaring and managing interests” . We would suggest that this will do nothing to restore the public’s trust.”

Dr Peter J Gordon and Dr Sian F Gordon

The Scottish Public: consulted on a Sunshine Act

The Scottish public were consulted on the need for a Sunshine Act for Scotland. Their response, in majority, was that this was necessary.

Almost a year-and-a-half on and the Scottish Government has provided no update to the Scottish people. This is disappointing given the Scottish Government’s assertion that “everyone matters” to them.

The lack of sunshine legislation in the British Isles is raised in this current BMJ News feature:

This response was submitted by Vagish Kumar L Shanbhag:

Submission on PE1517: Polypropylene Mesh Medical Devices

Submission on PE1517 on Polypropylene Mesh Medical Devices

Made by Dr Peter J Gordon

Date of submission: 17th May 2017
Submission made in a personal capacity.

The Agenda for the Public Petitions Committee meeting of the 18th May 2017 includes a most helpful summary “Note by the Clerk” on PE1517: Polypropylene Mesh Medical Devices (Document PPC/S5/17/10/1). Having read this carefully, and in accordance with the first suggested “Action” (point 45, page 8), I would like to offer evidence. Before doing so I have listed below the most relevant sections of PPC/S5/17/10/1 in relation to the points of evidence that I wish to make.

In Annexe B of PPC/S5/17/10/1 the Interim and Final Conclusions of the Independent Review are listed side-by-side.

Conclusion 1, both Interim and Final, was that “Robust clinical governance must surround treatment”

Conclusion 3, both Interim and Final, was that “Informed consent is a fundamental principle underlying all healthcare”

In  Annexe C: Parliamentary Action (page 21 of PPC/S5/17/10/1) the Cabinet Minister for Health, Shona Robison answered question S5W-07749 by Neil Findlay, MSP on the 17 March 2017, by stating:

“Informed consent and shared decision making are expected prior to any procedure being carried out. The Chief Medical Officer goes into this in more detail in her Realistic Medicine report.”

The Clerk, in point 7, (page 2 of PPC/S5/17/10/1) confirms that:

“The Scottish Government does not have the power to regulate what medical devices are licensed for use in the UK. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulates medical devices in the UK”

The Clerk, in point 12 (page 3 of PPC/S5/17/10/1) includes quotations from the Preface of the Review’s Independent Report:

“We found some concerning features about how new techniques are introduced into routine practice”  and that

“We are aware that some of our conclusions have wider implications and see the need to embed this in patient Safety and Clinical Governance strands of the NHS”

Points of Evidence by Dr Peter J Gordon  (GMC number 3468861)

• HDL62:  the Scottish Government has acknowledged that this 
Guidance is not being followed by NHS Boards

• There have been media reports that NHS professionals working in 
Scotland, who are involved in educating NHS staff about Mesh
procedures, have been paid by commercial sectors who have 
financial interest in Mesh products. 

• PE1493, A Sunshine Act for Scotland, was closed in February 2016 

• A Public Consultation on PE1493 was undertaken by the Scottish 
Health Council. The Scottish  public, in majority, were of the view 
that it should be mandatory for  all financial payments made to 
healthcare workers and academics to be declared in a publically 
accessible form 

• No meaningful update has been provided by the Scottish Government 
since this Public Consultation was published more than a year ago.

• I  fully support the Chief Medical Officer’s “Realistic Medicine” 
initiative and I have suggested that Sunshine legislation should be 
considered an essential part of this development  

• I agree with the Independent Review that “robust clinical 
governance must surround treatment”. I am concerned that if the 
current situation continues, where “education” of health 
professionals may be significantly based on marketing, further 
examples of iatrogenic harm may occur in NHS Scotland.

• The Independent Review concluded that “informed consent is a 
fundamental principle underlying all healthcare”. If the advice 
given to patients is based on marketing, either partially or wholly, 
then informed consent may be denied patients. Further examples of 
Iatrogenic harm may then  unfortunately occur and healthcare 
in Scotland may risk being considered as  unrealistic 
rather than “realistic”.

 

Update, 22 May 2017:

Public Petitions Committee – Scottish Parliament: 18 May 2017 (click on image below to watch the full meeting)

The official report of the Public Petitions Committee of 18 May 2017

Sunday Post, 21 May 2017: ‘Probe to examine possible conflicts of interest in troubled mesh implant inquiry’

Submission on PE01651: Prescribed drug dependence and withdrawal

As an NHS Psychiatrist who has worked in Scotland as a Consultant for over 15 years I want to offer my full support for this petition.

Recently at a Cross Party Group meeting held at the Scottish Parliament it was stated that “depression is under-recognised across all age groups” and that “maintenance treatment has a good risk-benefit ratio.” This was said without acknowledging that these statements cannot be made with absolute certainty.

I have found that my profession in Scotland seems to resist evidence of experience and at the same time prioritise the opinions of experts.

Potential for Expert Bias (one):
There is evidence that establishes that senior Scottish psychiatrists, who have provided expert input to Scottish Government strategies, and who have been involved in developing National prescribing guidelines, have had significant financially-based vested interests.

Potential for Expert Bias (two):
It is worth perhaps pointing out that Scottish Psychiatry has been traditionally orientated around biological determinants of mental health. Like myself, many academics have concluded that Scottish psychiatry lacks real-world, pluralistic breadth to the science of the mind and brain. Across the border, in England and Wales, the approach is far less reductionist. This includes the involvement of experts whose interests are not solely focussed on the bio-medical determinants of mental health.

I do prescribe psychiatric medications including antidepressants but I do not agree with the ‘experts’ that prescribing in Scotland is “conservative”. 1 in 7 Scots are now taking antidepressants.

Appropriate and informed prescribing is what we seek where there is open discussion about the potential benefits and potential harms of such treatments. This and an honest consideration that for many medications we cannot be certain of long-term effects.

                      Dr Peter J Gordon
                      GMC number 3468861

Making science a reality

It has been a long time since I last wrote on Hole Ousia about my activism for a science that strives for objectivity.

It is probably reasonable to suggest that no other in the British Isles has given more to this cause than I have.

I petitioned the Scottish Parliament to consider introducing a Sunshine Act for Scotland. Much evidence was gathered for this petition and this was then shared in a formal public consultation.

The Scottish public agreed, in majority, that payments from the pharmaceutical industry and device makers to healthcare professionals need to be declared on a mandatory basis. At the time, this landmark consultation was neither reported in the mainstream press nor the medical press. A year on the Scottish Government has provided no meaningful update.

It was thus with considerable interest that I read the following editorial in the current British Medical Journal:

The full article can be accessed here from the BMJ:






Open and transparent from omphalos on Vimeo.

“The shadowy mandarin class deserves greater scrutiny”

This was a recent post by Walter Humes for the Scottish Review. 

I read this as a personal view about the civil service in Scotland 
(and not just about the governance of the NHS) so I (presume) 
that I am safe to share Professor Hume's view without worrying 
about any potential consequences for me as an NHS employee 
working in Scotland

Wednesday 14th October
I wonder how many SR readers would recognise one or more of the following names: Leslie Evans; Paul Johnston; Alyson Stafford; Graeme Dickson; Paul Gray; Sarah Davidson; Ken Thomson. They all hold important positions which enable them to influence decisions about the future direction of Scottish society. Leslie Evans is the most senior civil servant in Scotland, with the title of permanent secretary. The others head different directorates within the Scottish Government (Learning and Justice; Finance; Enterprise, Environment and Innovation; Health and Social Care; Communities; Strategy and External Affairs). They are called directors-general, a title that manages to carry both bureaucratic and military associations. Brief biographies of each can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Notwithstanding all the talk about openness in public administration, civil servants continue to prefer to remain in the background. They play down the power that they exercise, colluding with politicians in maintaining the fiction that it is always the latter who determine policy, the former merely advising and supporting. One of the most important ways in which senior civil servants can shape events is through their capacity to influence public discourse. They draft minutes, reports, consultation documents and policy statements. The skilful use of language can serve as a form of intellectual control.

The shadowy work of the mandarin class deserves to be subject to greater scrutiny than it normally receives. I offer this as a topic which the recently formed group of investigative journalists in Scotland – called The Ferret – might wish to pursue. They see their role as ‘sniffing up the trouser leg of power’. Sounds good to me.

Director General for NHS Scotland

I have found it impossible to communicate directly with the Director General for NHS Scotland.

The Director General for NHS Scotland does not reply to e-mails sent to him unless you follow this advice from his office:

Paul Gray 02

Please note: The above includes only the first paragraph of the
Deputy Director's letter of the 15 October 2015.

It is essential to note that the Director General had repeated opportunities to make it clear to me that this was the process of communication to be followed. Unfortunately this never happened.

My advice to the Scottish Public is to carefully follow the advice as given by the Deputy Director, Colin Brown. Otherwise you may risk being considered “unwell”, as I have been,  for contacting the Director General through his, openly available Scottish Government, e-mail address.

Paul Gray, PAG1962, Year of Listening, NHS Scotland

Mr Paul Gray, the Director General for NHS Scotland: 
Year of Listening, 2016: "I've taken time to listen"

Over the last 8 months I felt it would not be constructive to attempt to communicate with the Office of the Director General of NHS Scotland.  However, following the EU Referendum the Director General wrote a letter to all NHS Scotland staff in which he stated “I greatly value the contribution of every member of staff in NHS Scotland”. Given that this had not been my experience, I wrote to dghsc@gov.scot expressing this reality which has led me to consider early retirement and asking: “I would be interested in your thoughts and if you have any words of support for me.”

I received the following reply (reproduced here exactly as it was sent):

paul-gray-director-general-chief-executive-1-july-2016

Below: an audio recording of a contribution I made to a 
BBC Radio Scotland discussion on retirement:

My communications in the past to the Director General related to my endeavour to put patients first, specifically in the areas of an ethical approach to the diagnosis of dementia and relating to my petition for a Sunshine Act. The lack of support I received in return is strikingly at odds with the following statement made by the Director General on the Scottish Health Council film below:

“We worry about transfer of power, transfer of responsibility. As far as I am concerned, the more power that patients have, the better. The more power that individuals have, the better. Because they are best placed to decide on what works for them.

To be frank, there is very clear evidence that if people feel powerless their wellbeing is greatly reduced.

If people feel that they have a degree of power, a degree of autonomy that actually helps their wellbeing. So to suggest that it involves something that relates to a loss of power on the part of the service provider, in order for the service user to gain, I think is quite wrong.

I think the service user, the patient, the carer, can have as much power as they are able to exercise without causing any loss or harm to the service provider whatsoever. Indeed I think it is greatly to the benefit of service providers to have powerful voices, powerful patients, and powerful service users, who are able to help us understand what works for them.”

Our Voice: support from senior leaders. 
Published by the Scottish Health Council

Perhaps the following explains why this admirable rhetoric does not seem to play out in practice:

Whistleblowing in NHS Scotland from omphalos on Vimeo.

In Dumfries and Galloway Health: Opinions & ideas, the Director General for NHS Scotland had published in July 2015: “Leadership in a rewarding, complex and demanding world”. The article is worth reading in full but here is one quote:

paul-gray-nhs-scotland-scottish-government-1

This was the response of the Deputy Director as shared with the Director General when I shared my experience of the NHS initiative “Everyone matters”:

deputy-director-to-director-of-nhs-scotland-hes-another-of-our-regular-correspondents

This report in the National describes the Director General’s approach to whistleblowing, an approach that would seem to address only selected recommendations of Sir Robert Francis:

No if yer a whistleblower it's no

all-nhs-workers-should-have-the-confidence-to-speak-up-without-fear-pag1962-paul-gray-chief-executiveThe above interview was published in the Herald on the 26th September 2016.

nhs-staff-too-scared-to-speak-out-paul-gray-chief-executive-pag1962

first-steps-towards-a-more-open-nhs-scotland-paul-gray-herald-chief-executive

In the month before the Director General shared his views with the Herald he had sent the following communication. I acknowledge that I have been persistent but would maintain that this was because of the lack of any substantive responses from his Department. This sort of behind the scenes approach by those in a genuine position of power highlights the very culture that Mr Gray needs to address.  I share the conclusions of the Editor of the Herald that “public statements of intent are not enough”.

from-the-director-general-nhs-scotland-15-aug-2016