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.
The ensuing backlash was as vitriolic as it was predictable, providing the Mail with a perfect opportunity to wash bloody medical linen in public. On Friday, it published a catalogue of calumny after hoovering up some of the choicer acidic comments on social media to show what an intolerant foul-mouthed lot doctors really are (note to Mail: yes, we fucking well are. Like anyone else). The only tweet missing is the one from the nice lady doctor who as a little girl over forty years ago wrote to Clive James after he cast aspersions on the Osmonds saying she hoped his finger would get inphected and drop off. To add to the calumny, The Mail, having promoted JMT back to Prof, then demoted the RCGP from a College to a ‘GPs’ equivalent of a trades union’ and quoted a tut-tutting nice lady doctor who just happens to be chair of the College urging the charity Barnardos, to whom JMT had donated his Mail payments for the articles, ‘to refuse to accept fee from scurrilous xenophobic attack on GPs [sic]’. Whether she also penned a private inphected phinger note to JMT himself is at present unclear.
Two things turn this farce into a sordid affair. The first is the denial of free speech implicit in the medical backlash. Just as we are free to agree or disagree with JMT’s views, so JMT is free to publish them. He did so as an ‘NHS surgeon’ which has been said to be too close to the Establishment, not to mention his employer, for comfort, though Dr No defies anyone who has read the articles not to see them as personal opinion from someone who happens, perhaps relevantly, perhaps not, to be an NHS surgeon. Equally, if we disagree with these personal opinions, we are free to counter, at best with reasoned argument and evidence, at worst with ‘venom, bile and hatred’, as The Mail has it. If we do use venom, bile and hatred, as we are free to do, then we can expect we might end up on the receiving end of a few choice words ourselves, possibly even an inphected phinger note. That’s simply the way we do it.
In passing, Dr No’s personal views on so-called (social) media ‘hate crime’ (no, Dr No does not like the term ‘hate crime’) and freedom of speech are at the liberal (allowing) end of the spectrum. In this, Dr No takes some meagre comfort from the current DPP’s ‘Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media’. To meet the threshold for prosecution, the material must, among other considerations, be ‘a credible threat of violence’ and/or ‘grossly offensive’, with ‘grossly’ given its ordinary meaning, which means it will be fluid in scope, but sufficient to exclude ‘ordinarily’ or ‘normally’ offensive – which is why you can publicly call Dr No a fucking arsehole (and Dr No can call you a fucking arsehole) – pardon the language, but necessary to make the point – should we feel so inclined.
The second sordid element is the readiness to refer JMT to the GMC. This is a mean cowardly and sadly increasingly common ‘colleague’ response, akin to school boys telling the prefects that Meirion Thomas Minor has done big jobs in his fellow pupils’ desks. As it happens, it is also dumb: if writing objectionable articles in the press is deemed to be not working collaboratively with colleagues, then isn’t reporting colleagues to the GMC for writing objectionable articles also not working collaboratively with colleagues? In fact, it’s worse than dumb. At a time when the GMC is at last coming under serious attack from the profession for its dysfunctional behaviour, it makes no sense whatsoever to start feeding the crocodile. The proper response, repeat, is not to run off to the beaks, but to counter argument with argument.
Oh, and Dr No’s response to JMT’s opinions? Health tourism happens, but is trivial – so bigger fish to fry, dear boy. The implications of the changing sex distribution of the medical profession? Over a decade ago, much to the chagrin of a fair fat politically-correct female non-medical ‘professional’, Dr No suggested there were ‘opportunities and challenges’, and his views have not changed since, all the more so as neither the opportunities nor the challenges have been properly addressed. Hospital consultants pooh-poohing general practice? Well, that’s always happened, always will, and may even have a silver lining, in that the attacks and counters-attacks help keep both sides on their toes. If you want to send Dr No an inphected phinger note written in frog’s blood, feel free to do so. Dr No can always return the compliment – if he feels so inclined.