Back in the 1980s when Mary Wynch sued Dr Dafydd Alun Jones and Clwyd Health Authority (and also if I remember rightly two psychiatrists from Risley Remand Centre) as described in my blog post ‘Making Legal History – The Mary Wynch Case) for false imprisonment, Mary’s allegations of a corrupt ‘network’ in north Wales was simply taken as evidence of how mad she must have been. (Despite the trashing of Mary’s reputation, other people in the 1980s also told me stories concerning what was known as ‘the North Wales Mafia’). Since then however, networks, their importance and even the value of networking, are widely discussed. Indeed Julia Hobsbawm has a Chair in Networking at the LSE. Sociologists take a great interest in networks and I have mentioned them now and then on this blog.

My attention has been drawn to networks over the past few days because when I shared the revelations in the Heddfan files with friends, one of them said ‘So who the hell is Sambhi and who is in his network?’ Well we haven’t been able to find out very much – Sambhi qualified in India in 1991, appeared on the GMC specialists register in 2010 and seems to have arrived in north Wales shortly after with no trace of where he’d come from. So Sambhi certainly isn’t part of the north Wales mafia. One of my friends suggested that Sambhi was probably a ‘nonenity’ who listened to and read a lot of very nasty things about me by people with an agenda and failed to independently assess the situation himself.

But something interesting was happening because in my first ever meeting with Sambhi he asked me if I knew of a certain research team based in Wales. (There are no references to this in my medical records.) Which was odd because I have never worked with anyone in this team but I know of a bit of research that they carried out many years ago that was so dodgy that many people would categorise it as fraudulent. And a few other people know about this as well, but one member of this team later moved to England, became very well-known, incredibly influential and ended up with celebrity endorsements, so no-one has dared breathe a word. (A lot of them still use him as a referee.) I have never worked with anyone in this team but I have watched them for years because I remembered the original research, done long ago, in the dear old Hergest Unit, in conjunction with the Arfon Community Mental Health Team. I was invited to participate, as were nearly all the other Hergest patients. Many of the people who participated have since died, such is the death rate among mental health patients in north Wales – yet this ‘research’ was written up as a resounding success and it snowballed on from there. I have spoken to the only two patients whom I know are still alive who remember the early days of this research and they too remember it as chaos, trialling a technique that didn’t work for most people. I’m not going public on the full story yet because I still have some investigating to do, but the team concerned has mycelia all over the place, internationally as well now. Indeed it was someone with connections with this team who was overjoyed when Peter Higson arrived as Chairman of the Betsi – she trilled to one of my friends that ‘the mental health practitioners are delighted’. I bet they were – one of their own, returned to the north after failing to investigate complaints against them whilst he was CEO of Health Inspectorate Wales. (Does this explain why the Betsi ended up in special measures on Higson’s watch?) And Sambhi, new to north Wales, was asking me if I knew them. Hhmmmm….

I’ve long been aware that the mental health contingent of the mafia in north Wales operate entirely by gossip and rumour, whispering in ears. Indeed the blustering Alun Davies, former manager of the Hergest Unit, frequently used to bellow that ‘I’ll be having a word with them’ if ever he discovered that someone had dared comment on the dreadful conduct of his colleagues. And indeed there are documents in my medical records that indicate just how much this was going on – scores of casual references to having had a ‘chat’ about me when they met up a few days ago, other confessions from people that they’d never met me but they knew me ‘by repute’, references to needing to ‘do lunch’ sometime to discuss me further. Now of course everyone has networks whereby they obtain informal information – it is obvious from this blog that I have one myself – but these were people who were supposed to be basing their decisions on EVIDENCE. Anyone for evidence based medicine?  My records repeatedly show that this just wasn’t happening, to me or other patients – what was happening was an utterly sordid process involving much rumour, gossip and slander. And as I describe in my blog post ‘A Network Stretching To London’, those we know and love trailed after me when I left Wales and went to work at St Georges Medical School.

My blog post ‘How No-One Knew About Dr Dafydd Alun Jones’ describes how Robin Jacobson, a consultant at Springfield Hospital (the psychiatric hospital affiliated to St Georges), was faced with outrageous comments from Jones that Jacobson subsequently documented and how his solution was to have as little involvement in what was quaintly referred to as my ‘case’ as possible. But something interesting had happened a few months before I met Jacobson.

Because I was getting depressed, I had been referred to the occupational health specialist at St Georges, a Nicky Mitchell-Heggs (who was also doing some very interesting things regarding what she was being told was happening in north Wales, but I’ll be blogging more about that at a later date). Mitchell-Heggs encouraged me to see a psychiatrist whom she described as the most lovely man she knew, Tom Burns. I had a fascinating meeting with him. He asked what was happening in north Wales to land me in so much trouble all the time, so I told him – although by now I was very used to being called a liar when I tried to raise concerns about events in north Wales. After I’d being talking for a while Tom Burns stopped me and said ‘You think I’m an idiot don’t you? You think I’m naïve and I don’t know that this sort of thing goes on.’ I was gobsmacked and told him that I was used to people not believing me regarding Denbigh, Jones et al and that I didn’t think that he (Tom Burns) would know just how bad things were in north Wales. And Tom Burns responded with some very interesting comments about psychiatry ‘attracting disturbed people’ which caused problems. When I left his office I felt very relieved that I had at last encountered a psychiatrist who hadn’t called me a liar and who had been honest enough to admit just what can happen in mental health. Yet I never received any follow up appointment with Tom Burns. Years later, when I retrieved my medical records, I found a letter from Mitchell-Heggs – she had written that Tom Burns did not think that I was psychotic but felt that ‘he didn’t have anything to offer me at present’. I suspect that like Robin Jacobson, Tom Burns had worked out exactly what was going on in north Wales and decided that he wasn’t going near it. Tom Burns is now Professor Tom Burns and works at Oxford University. He has been awarded a CBE for his services to medicine and is considered a thoroughly decent man and a liberal voice in psychiatry.

I was reminiscing about all this with Brown the other day and we were counting up just how many people who were or are now actually very famous in their fields were told what was happening in north Wales thirty years ago and how all of them either discredited me (like Robert Bluglass did) or, as with Robin Jacobson and Tom Burns, walked in another direction as fast as they could. Yes said Brown chirpily, they knew that people in north Wales were being abused but it wasn’t happening on their patch so none of them were at all concerned – it was only happening to a bunch of sheep-shaggers after all.

‘It’s a really weird profession’ observed another friend when we were having a similar discussion. All professions tend to close ranks but there’s something very odd about medicine. They just won’t comment on what’s staring them in the face no matter how gross it is. (Indeed after Harold Shipman was finally caught – virtually solely as a result of the work of a relative of one of the people he murdered, rather than as a result of the police or any of his colleagues questioning why so many of his patients were dropping dead in his surgery – the dear old GMC admitted that there were clues that they had missed. Not that it made any difference to the GMC at all in terms of their practice – when I was trying to alert them to the activities of the likes of Tony Roberts et al, they actually had an apology to the victims of Harold Shipman posted up on their website on the day that I contacted them. There was no investigation into my complaint.)

There is something perplexing about networks in medicine and the associated huge professional loyalties which are put before patients’ safety constantly. There has been some interesting sociology published regarding how doctors are trained and inducted into their professional culture and more research that shows that if someone has been a victim of medical negligence they are for ever responded to in a different way that actually increases their risk of encountering medical negligence again. And there was a notorious case many years ago where a woman was violently raped by her GP during a house call. It was never suggested that she had lied and the GP was subsequently given a long prison sentence. But she then found that no other GP would agree to have her on their list…

There has been much published about the high suicide rate among junior doctors and at least in the lay press this is always attributed to long hours and exposure to other people’s suffering. But talking to those rare creatures, people who qualified in medicine but left practice at an early stage in their career, can be very illuminating. I knew someone in this position very well a few years ago and he used to say that people who’ve never worked in medicine would simply not believe what goes on and what is concealed. He withstood it for a year and just felt that he really could not be party to this any longer. I have often wondered whether there are some junior doctors killing themselves because they cannot live with some of what is going on. If they have not been sufficiently brutalised during their training, I imagine a few shifts in mental health in north Wales would leave most people feeling pretty grim.

There will be more posts on this blog soon regarding St Georges, the North Wales Hospital Denbigh and some interesting information that an investigative reporter dug up about the UK mental health system and associated networks in the 1980s/90s, after the Jimmy Savile scandal broke….