Updates From NHS England, March 18 2017

The main focus of this blog is Wales, but I do report on events in NHS England from time to time if they intersect with areas of interest to readers. There have been a few relevant news reports of events in the English NHS over the past few days.

The Guardian ran an article on March 16 in which it was reported that the House of Commons Health Select Committee, chaired by Dr Sarah Woolaston (Con), called for greater restrictions to be placed on the portrayal of suicide in TV dramas to prevent encouraging ‘copycats’ https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/16/tv-dramas-should-not-portray-suicide-methods-say-mps The Committee fears that ‘irresponsible media coverage has a damaging effect on vulnerable people’ and wants the Ofsted broadcasting code strengthened to ‘ensure that detailed description or portrayal of suicide methods, including particular locations where suicide could be easily imitated, are not permissible’. The Samaritans contributed to the debate as well, with their Chief Executive, Ruth Sutherland, stating that ‘strengthening media codes of practice in this area will mean fewer people are put at risk because of irresponsible content’.

I first encountered the notion that portrayal of suicide or attempted suicide in the media could lead to ‘copycat’ behaviour in the early 1990s. An episode of ‘EastEnders’ at the time had featured Angie attempting to kill herself and a moral panic broke out lest the women of Britain all took a leaf out of Angie’s book and followed suit. There followed a piece of research that became famous – I think it was published in either the BMJ or the British Journal of Psychiatry – in which an analysis of the statistics of women admitted to hospital in the wake of attempting suicide by overdose (the method employed by Angie) in the days after the relevant ‘EastEnders’ episode was screened was conducted, in an attempt to find out whether there was a copycat effect. I found all this very interesting at the time, because by then I had started to notice the enormous gulf between what psychiatrists claimed that they did – as evidenced by journal articles and text books – and what they actually did in practice, as evidenced by my experiences at Ysbyty Gwynedd, the North Wales Hospital Denbigh and Springfield Hospital, London (I have detailed such experiences extensively in previous blog posts). I wondered why the profession seemed to take more interest in theoretical arguments pivoting on the possibility that people might be influenced by a TV soap than the welfare of patients under their ‘care’ who were actually suicidal. It reminded me of another debate that had raged in the 1980s, that is whether watching violence on TV or ‘video nasties’ caused children to behave more violently. Researchers like Guy Cumberpatch always maintained that this was not so and instead urged people to pay more attention to the violence that some children were exposed to in real life. It seemed that Guy’s pleas fell on deaf ears – the nation continued to obsess over the likes of ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ and ignored the very real difficulties that a lot of children encountered when they were subjected to violent behaviour at school or in the home.

I was similarly puzzled when I read the Guardian article two days ago. There has now been an admission from the Westminster Gov’t, indeed an admission from Theresa May herself, that the mental health services are dreadful and that people are dying as a result of this. (The Welsh Gov’t hasn’t yet found it in their heart to admit that we’re in exactly the same state.) Yet the Health Select Committee are worrying about what the nation is watching online/on TV. It is highly unlikely that someone feeling fine is going to attempt suicide after witnessing such a scene on their screen – if somebody were to be tipped over the edge thus, they would have to be feeling very rough. Would it not be more sensible to start addressing the lack of help for people who are suicidal – or indeed, the causes of suicide? (One of which is widely suspected to be the Westminster Govt’s butchering of disability and sickness benefits – the DWP has resisted all calls for an investigation into the deaths of the many people who have killed themselves after their benefits have been drastically reduced or even stopped completely. Theresa and Sarah would be better off addressing this, there is every indication that it is a far bigger problem than the content of what people are watching on TV/online.)

As for the intervention from the Samaritans – I do know of Samaritans who are well-motivated and probably very helpful to the people who approach them. But as far as Bangor is concerned, the Samaritans seem to have been troubled for a very long time. In the 1990s in Bangor, the Samaritan’s building was sited next door to the Abbey Road Centre, which housed MIND. The two women who ran MIND – one of whom later trained as a mental health social worker and worked with the dreadful Dr Tony Roberts – absolutely ignored all the accounts of serious malpractice on the part of the mental health services that clients were telling them about. When challenged they would respond with ‘MIND doesn’t deal with complaints’. Whereas the Samaritans excuse for inaction was ‘confidentiality’. They were hearing accounts of serious abuse and criminality. Some ten years later, I became friendly with someone who had knowledge of the Bangor Samaritans and she told me that there was such a problem there that all of the volunteers at the Bangor branch had been sent for retraining. I don’t think it’s done the trick. Four years ago, I was desperately trying to summon help for a friend who had repeatedly tried to kill himself, had been refused all further ‘help’ from the mental health services and was now suicidal again. I knew that MIND were still colluding with the mental health service’s wrongdoing (please see blog post ‘The Mysterious Silence of MIND’), so I rang the Samaritans in Bangor. I encountered a man who on being told that my friend had been a mental health patient simply repeated ‘we don’t deal with them, we’re not trained’. When I tried to impress upon him that there was a very real concern that my friend would kill himself, the Samaritan simply replied that a lot of ‘these people’ do kill themselves. So don’t bother the Samaritans if you’re suicidal with mental health problems because they’re not trained. What is particularly worrying is that in recent years, patients trying to access help at Ysbyty Gwynedd when they have gone to A&E feeling suicidal have not been offered any mental health care but have  simply been given the number of the Samaritans.

In the face of all this, I think what we watch on TV is irrelevant. As for Dr Sarah Woolaston, the Tory MP who is the Chair of the Health Select Committee – as well as being an MP, she is a practicing GP. Sarah Woolaston practices in south Devon – south Devon is not a place where one wants to live if one is experiencing mental health problems. Please see blog posts ‘NHS Chief Executive Collapses In Court After Being Spared Jail’ and ‘How Did These Two Events Ever Happen?’ for more information about being mentally ill in south Devon.

Onto other matters. Today’s ‘Daily Telegraph’ contains an article entitled ‘Security Fears Over GP Records Of 26 Million Patients’. The Telegraph reports that an IT system used by thousands of GPs is not secure and the Information Commissioner is investigating concerns that records held by 2,700 practices – one in three of those in England – can be accessed by ‘hundreds of thousands of strangers’. The IT system in question allows virtually anyone working in pharmacies, hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes and prisons to look up sensitive information about individuals without medical reasons. There is nothing to prevent information gained in this way from being used for malicious reasons or being passed onto criminals. This is a timely warning, because regular readers of this blog will know that not only have I been given documents relating to other patients when I requested my medical records from the Betsi, but that I received an e mail from someone who had traced me via my blog who told me that confidential information relating to me had ended up on her GP files as well as on her Social Services files and police records – this person does not even live in Wales. I have now been in touch with the Information Commissioner myself and am preparing to make representation to them.

To return to the Guardian once more – today they have a major report on the 92% drop in the number of EU nationals registering to work as nurses in England since the Brexit vote in the summer and also report that of the NHS staff from the EU already working in England, thousands are leaving https://www.theguardian.com/uk

There has been much debate in the media regarding the reliance of the NHS – and care homes – in the UK on overseas workers, including those from the EU. Wales especially stands to be clobbered very badly if these people are not allowed to remain in the UK or simply perceive such a hostile atmosphere that they leave anyway, as an enormous proportion of doctors in Wales are not from the UK. I suspect that this is one reason why Plaid are too frightened to level any criticism at all towards the NHS and medical establishment in Wales. Leanne has dreams of becoming First Minister and indeed reassured the nation in a radio interview during the last Assembly election campaign that although she is a committed Republican, she would be quite happy to toady to HM the Queen in the time-honoured way should she become First Minister. I was very disappointed to hear this, because the one admirable thing that Leanne has done during her time in the Assembly was to refer to a certain ‘Mrs Windsor’ (although shouldn’t it have actually been ‘Mrs Mountbatten’?), refuse to withdraw the remark and thus get sent out of the chamber by Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who was Presiding Officer at the time. Presumably Leanne has a recurring nightmare of being First Minster in a country completely devoid of doctors. The answer Leanne is not to fail to speak out about the abuses of the medical establishment which are resulting in people in Wales dying, it is to fight the institutional corruption within that establishment so that good doctors actually want to work in Wales – at the moment they don’t and organisations like the Betsi are having to employ anyone willing to work for them (which is an ever decreasing number). By the way, the one good psychiatrist that the Betsi does have is Italian. He has been subjected to much racism and generally objectionable behaviour by his colleagues – whom Leanne and the other ‘progressive’ politicians don’t dare criticise.