Thursday, 1 January 2015

'Prof' Meirion Thomas and the 'Spectator'


The 'Prof' Meirion Thomas saga is complex and I shall not attempt to address all the details in this piece.  For more detail simply use 'google' and read away.  I am no fan of Mr Meirion Thomas, he is in fact no longer entitled to use his honorary 'Professor' title as it lapsed back in 2012.  He has written several rather ill informed and ignorant pieces around the NHS in respected sources such as the Daily Mail and Spectator, there is no hint of sarcasm in my tone I may righteously add.

Whatever one thinks of his words, he is entitled to his opinion, no matter how misogynistic, sexist, ill informed, ignorant, hurtful or just plain wrong that opinion is.  The Spectator ignorantly claims that no one has 'tackled' his comments, a total distortion of the reality which has seen his words totally dismantled by objective evidence based opinion throughout the media.  The Spectator's attempt to obfuscate and hide from the truth are embarrassing, labelling Meirion Thomas a 'whistleblower' is a total abuse of the word.  He is entitled to free speech like all of us, unless he crosses the line of the law.  It is worth bearing in mind that it is not just criminal law that Mr Meirion Thomas has to respect, but he is an employee of the NHS and as an NHS employee he has to respect the law of his contract of employment.  He certainly hasn't been criminal with his ill informed opinion, but has he ignored the terms of his employment contract?  Of critical importance is the clear fact that the Spectator claims that:

"he insisted on being described simply as an NHS surgeon"


This is pivotal.  Firstly it is important to realise that this is what the Spectator claims, I do not know whether the Spectator is being strictly honest with its words.  However it remains abundantly clear that Mr Meirion Thomas effectively used the description of 'NHS surgeon' and it was not made abundantly clear, as any competent Editorial team should well appreciate, that he was speaking as an individual and not for his employer, the NHS.  Therefore Mr Meirion Thomas has ended up on very tricky legal ground with his employer, the Royal Marsden.  This is something the rather biased and stilted Spectator piece completely fails to get across, there is a thing called employment law and although there is a thing called 'free speech', this is not unbounded and it most certainly does not allow one to appear to speak for one's employer in the media, effectively what Mr Meirion Thomas has ended up doing.

So in summary don't believe the nonsense written Mr Meirion Thomas and the dubious justifications of his ignorant scaremongering in the Spectator.  Free speech is not absolute, Mr Meirion Thomas is an NHS employee and as such must respect his contract of employment.  It is is clear that for whatever reason, whether down to Mr Meirion Thomas' ignorance or the Spectator's desire to exploit his NHS reputation for page hits, or perhaps a combination of the two, it was not made clear to readers that Mr Meirion Thomas's writing was merely the opinion of an individual.  I doubt we shall ever hear the truth behind the Spectator's editorial fiddling and what the Royal Marsden has actually stipulated about any future articles by Mr Meirion Thomas.  The Spectator claims that he may not publish again:

"at least not without submitting the text to the hospital’s management for approval"

Without knowing the full details it is impossible to justifiably criticise the Marsden's stance on this.  They are not necessarily seeking to 'shut him up' as the Spectator likely unfairly states, they may very well be simply ensuring that he accurately states he is writing as an individual in the future, so that readers are not knowingly misled into thinking his ignorant ill informed bile may have any kind of NHS seal of approval.

15 comments:

Peter English said...

I was greatly offended by Meirion Thomas' comments.

But I think he has and should have every right to make them, as long as he doesn't imply that he is acting as a spokesperson for his employer. And consultants on the NHS contract are contractually entitled to publish without prior approval from their employer. (Would you like to have to get all your blogs - or your comments on other people's blogs - approved by your employer's comms team before you can publish them?)

ben said...

Hi Peter

Your point is entirely valid if the publishing individual makes it clear it is an individual's views and not their employer's.

Problem is that if individual uses employer's name to describe their job and do not make it clear that their publication is an individual's views, and not in any way representative of their employer's views, then this individual is on very dubious legal ground at best imho

Cheers

Peter English said...

I still feel that unless they say or imply that they are putting their employer's views, they should be entitled to express their opinions. Disclaimers don't feature highly in the non-professional press. I'm not sure they'd not get edited out. I've certainly had letters and articles printed with my job title and employer despite my express instructions that they should not be included...

Doctor Zorro said...

Paragraph 330 of the Terms and Conditions of Service for Hospital Medical and Dental Staff
A practitioner shall be free, without prior consent of the employing authority, to publish books, articles, etc, and to deliver any lecture or speak, whether on matters arising out of his or her hospital service or not.

ben said...

Zorro,

as previously stated it is how one defines oneself when one publishes that is the key!

legally if one doesn't make it clear one is writing as individual and one uses employer's name in way that makes it appear one is speaking under employer's umbrella, one is on dodgy ground

ben said...

Many NHS Trusts state:

"You should not speak or write to
the media in your capacity as a Trust employee without speaking to the communications
office first. "

This is why MT is on dodgy legal ground.

ben said...

Look at Homerton's media policy for an example, pretty standard stuff:

http://www.homerton.nhs.uk/media/85936/media_policy_april_2011.pdf

"If you are approached to speak to the media in another capacity (i.e. for a professional body, trades union or charity) you may do so. However, if this occurs in a way that will
link you to the Trust, e.g. using the Trust address, mentioning your role at the Trust, or filming in your department for a back-drop, we would ask that you contact the communications office so that the Trust is aware of the media interest.
If you are not going to be mentioning the Trust, but are participating in something likely to attract high profile media attention, we would still like to hear about it so please inform the communications office. You should not be interviewed on Trust premises, or use the Trust address when writing to the media, if you are commenting in a private capacity.

You must not disclose any confidential information about the Trust, our patients or staff –
otherwise you may be liable for disciplinary action."

This is pretty standard and in this context Meirion Thomas was on dodgy ground to say the least.

ben said...

PS

Look at Mail piece

"That same consultant, Professor Meirion Thomas of the Royal Marsden Hospital in London..."

This is breach of standard NHS media policy as linked to above.

This is why he got in hot water.

Rob Walsh said...

I agree the word whistleblower is inaccurate, but otherwise I think you're being disingenuous here. No one in their right mind would interpret his articles as pretending to represent his employer's policies by saying "NHS Surgeon". Take a look at the Guardian's "Views from the frontline" blog - no one there is caveated as "personal opinion", but it is obvious from the context that that is what is being provided. Are you going to systematically report each one of them to their employers? I don't think so. http://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/views-from-the-nhs-frontline

The difference between them and Thomas is that he expresses an old school, right wing, un-PC viewpoint (which I disagree with btw). People disagree with the *content* of what he says, but with some exceptions such as Margaret McCartney, they haven't argued against it, they've tried to shut him up. Whether this is contacting his employer, or that GMC petition, or using "employment law", it is an intimidating tactic. They're sanctions that none of us would want to even be threatened with, and will make him think twice about expressing his opinion in future. This is frankly a disgrace, and a large section of the profession should be ashamed of itself. Next time a lefty doctor gets in trouble, how are we going to be able to consistently defend them, if we haven't defended Thomas? Free speech isn't just for people you agree with.

My take on it (pre-Speccy article) here:
http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/doctors-against-free-speech/16255#.VKb-bDGsXqk

Rob Walsh said...

Big fan of your stuff on Shape btw, but think you're completely wrong on this one!

The Gollux said...

To say that the Meirion Thomas saga is "complex" and then to throw in remarks about him being ill informed and his views "nonsense", is rather disgraceful. This is playground stuff: everyone gangs up on Mr Thomas because it's the fashionable thing to do. Those of us who have had occasion to consult our GP know that the current service is nothing like what we remembered from 15 years ago. If you make an appointment it will be 2 or 3 weeks hence. If you queue to be seen as an emergency you will be told off if the doctor regards your condition as non-urgent or chronic. No GP will call during the night to see a sick child - you either go to A&E or phone the NHS Direct robot. So I don't much care for the self-congratulatory attitude of the RCGP or the demand that all doctors must stick together and refrain from criticising the system.

Actually, Mr Thomas has my unconditional respect. And his critics are a disgrace to their profession.

ben said...

Rob

We'll agree to disagree, for one we don't full details, his employer's actions likely completely reasonable

Gollux

Incoherent and internally contradictory.

A disgrace to criticise someone? Utterly ludicrous comment symptomatic of your very week anecdotal argument.

Anonymous said...

Dr (as he is not dignified enough to be called Prof) Thomas is far from a "whistle blower". More accurately, he is an emotionally disturbed and nasty old man who has a lot of bitterness to release. He just wants to attack something, anyting. Whether these be women GPs or foreign patients, it's pretty irrelevant. He just wants to vent out his angst and anger.

If you do some research on Meirion Thomas, you will find that he has fought many battles (as far as the USA and as near as patient's bedsides in the UK), agitated many, abused often, and upset everyone. He is renown for being aggressive, arrogant, rude and just plain horrible.

So, these articles by Dr Thomas, and the subsequent outrage is not about whistle blowing nor about the Daily Mail nor about GPs. They are about one nasty old man who should be retired and huddled off to a psychiatric ward. It's only in this way will he stop offending, hurting, abusing and generally being a pain in the rear.

Adios Dr Thomas.. please retire with some dignity and stop tormenting the world!

Unknown said...

Meirion Thomas operated on my thigh..not only did he do an awful job (1mm margins such that my cancer recurred) but he abused my elderly mother and I a half hour before my operation.. this is a nasty man who respects nobody (hence the bitterness that he excels to the press). Prof Thomas rest well knowing you truly screwed up in your career..and life!

Hinson Ng said...

Meirion Thomas operated on my thigh..not only did he do an awful job (1mm margins such that my cancer recurred) but he abused my elderly mother and I a half hour before my operation.. this is a nasty man who respects nobody (hence the bitterness that he excels to the press). Prof Thomas rest well knowing you truly screwed up in your career..and life!