In a curious move, because to many it will suggest the GMC perceives itself to be on the back foot, Stilton yesterday had published in Pulse an article in which he attempts to portray the GMC as a listening organisation which ‘accepts there is a lot more to do’. Or, to put it another way, on the matter of its regulatory functions, the Council accepts this is ‘an area where more can be done’. Pulse’s standfirst boldly promises an explanation of ‘how the body is ‘improving fitness-to-practise regulations’ – this being, after all, and as the Council accepts, ‘an area where more can be done’ – but in the body the article fails to keep its promise. Instead, Stilton delivers a peevish nit-picking lawyerly rebuff to two recent articles, and a bizarre waffle on why GMC punishments are not punishments. These, however, are diversions. The real message, the payload, part-hidden as it is, is much darker. It is that age old defence against charges of involvement in state sponsored evil that has become known, since the Nuremberg trials, as the Eichmann Defence: ‘only following orders’.
Once upon a time there was a turkey farm that grew so large that no one had ever seen one so vast. There were so many turkeys that, over time, the turkeys began to specialise in what they did. There were turkey-surgeons with white plumage, who operated on other turkeys. There were turkey-physicians, with fancy black and white plumage not unlike a human frock coat, who were called in when no one knew what to do. The turkey-physicians didn’t know what to do either, but were very good at making it look as if they did, which made everyone feel better. There were turkey-apothecaries, always busy in their brown aprons, handing out this pill and that potion. Over time, the turkey-apothecaries renamed themselves turkey-GPs, which made them feel more important, but no one else was fooled, and the turkey-GPs carried on doing what the turkey-apothecaries had always done, the over-worked under-appreciated back bone of Turkey Farm. There were even mad turkeys, as they were affectionately known, whose plumage tended to look as if they had been dragged through a hedge backwards, whose job it was to lock up deranged turkeys. No one liked locking up fellow turkeys, but sometimes it had to be done, and it was the mad turkeys who did it.
Any lingering hope that Parliament’s Health Committee could hold the GMC to account at its annual accountability hearing earlier this week over doctor suicides while under GMC FtP investigation has now disappeared as sand in the desert. Though delayed for a few days, the transcript of the hearing is now available online. It makes grim and depressing reading. On the matter of FtP doctor suicides, the Chair of the committee – a doctor – came to the proceedings with a regrettably light grasp, if that is not too strong a term, on the facts. Stilton, the GMC pongo who answered the questions on these deaths, turned out to have an even lighter grasp. Indeed, so poor were these grasps that Dr No has no hesitation in saying that they were, and are, an insult to democratic process.
A medical school somewhere in England. A panel has assembled to interview prospective candidates. In the centre is Professor Sir Turpentine Stephenson, newly appointed Chair of the GMC. On the left sits Stilton, Chief Executive Pongo for the time being of the GMC; on the right sits His Honour David Fake-Pearl, Chair of the Medical Students Tribunal Service. Fake-Pearl appears to be reading a catalogue of some sort, possibly of spring bulbs. Stilton repeatedly inspects his finger nails. Stephenson gets out a fountain pen labelled ‘MI6 100% nitric acid, emergency use only’ and twirls it in his fingers. Bored observers sit behind the panel.
A bell rings, the panelled door opens to reveal a young lad standing on the threshold. The lad has wing-nut ears.
There are those who want to torpedo the GMC using the Human Rights Act, or even the European Courts, but it must be remembered that such processes are always time-consuming, often futile, and inconveniently prone to blowback, like trying to clear a blocked drain with a toothpick. Instead, we have Magna Carta. As Lord Bagg continues to develop his history of the 1215 Charter, Dr No has been working on Magna Carta Medicorum, a present day Charter to ensure fair treatment of all doctors facing and under professional disciplinary regulation.
2015, as the wonderful Lord Bagg reminded us this morning, is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. The speech of the once melodious Melvyn is maturing into the voice of the English Establshmnt, in which later vowls are largely discardd, and each utternce is gaspd, as f’twere speakers last, though never is. Over those 800 years since the first Magna Carta, the Gods of ye mystries have placed the Charter firmly in the mythical sphere, and lodged it anywhere between the Ye Olde Scroll of Ye Commone Law, to a scrap of parchment that was binned shortly after it was penned. Somewhere in the middle ground it is seen, primarily, as the first declaration in English history that the King be subject to the same laws as his people, and that furthermore the laws must be both just, ordered and decided by one’s peers. It was a momentous change.
Doing his best to out-kip UKIP, a British surgeon has come under fire for blowing the wrong sort of raspberries in that esteemed organ of Middle England thought – if that’s not too rich a word – known to its readers as The Daily Mail, and by various other non-printable names by its non-readers. The gist of ex-Prof – his professorship ‘expired’, however that happens, though the Mail continues to provide its man with a fictitious chair – Joseph Meirion Thomas’s jam is that the time has come to round up health tourists, nice lady doctors and GPs and shoo them back from whence they came, preparatory-like to re-staffing the health service with proper male hospital doctors.
Faced with the GMC’s latest antics, Dr No was tempted to do an RDJ (rapid demolition job) on some of its sillier notions, such as ‘emotional resilience training’ for doctors to prepare them for fitness to practice investigations (‘General Turkey Council: toughness training for turkeys facing Christmas process’), but instead he offers another variation on a favourite line of his, borrowing from great orators of the past. Three quarters of a century ago, Britain stood against the Nazi menace; today the medical profession stands against the regulatory menace. What would Mr Churchill have said had he been the leader we so clearly lack today as our profession prepares to face the greatest menace in its long illustrious history?