Letter to Sir Graeme Catto, GMC President from Murray Ogston
Dear Sir Graeme,The Fitness to Practice case brought by the GMC against Dr Skinner has highlighted a number of serious flaws in the structures and practices of the GMC. Failure to address these weaknesses has resulted in patients being subjected to unnecessary suffering. It is clear that family practitioners and endocrinologists work in a climate of fear. Doctors are afraid to challenge conventional thinking in case they prejudice their career or suffer the same harassment as Dr Skinner and others. Endocrinologists are afraid to challenge the thinking of their esteemed peers in case they prejudice their merit awards, which can run into tens of thousands of pounds. Proper academic debate is stifled. It is the atmosphere created by the medical establishment which has led to the failure to re-examine the role of blood tests in diagnosing hypothyroidism with such tragic consequences.
During the Hearing a total of 17 patients from across the country attended to provide glowing testimonials to Dr Skinner during which they disclosed their full medical history. Their evidence represented a catalogue of misdiagnosis and mistreatment by the NHS. It is difficult to convey the full impact of this misdiagnosis on both the patients and their families. One young lad lost the 10 most formative years of his life. He was confined indoors; unable to walk downstairs; unable to attend school for years and unable to make friends. Enquiry was even made as to whether or not he was the subject of child abuse by his family. The distress, which this caused, was appalling. During the whole of this period the NHS failed their patient and his family as a result of blind reliance on blood tests!
Patient after patient after patient provided similar testimony with equally tragic stories, which moved several at the Hearing to tears. Again and again the failure of the NHS was due to an over-reliance on blood tests. Patients were told they were suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, ME, depression and virtually anything except hypothyroidism. They suffered appallingly during years of costly investigations into conditions from which they did not suffer. Professor Weetman indeed suggested that Dr Skinner should have referred patients for a truly bewildering number of prospective conditions during which of course their unnecessary suffering would have been allowed to continue. During the Hearing, the Panel disclosed an obsession about blood tests without seemingly understanding the importance of treating patients rather than blood tests.
Having put the wrong doctor in the dock the GMC must surely now address a number of very serious issues:Why was this case brought against Dr Skinner? Is it because he challenged established thinking in a somewhat uncompromising manner borne of frustration at hearing the tragic stories of so many patients? Why did Patient B provide a testimonial to Dr Skinner during which she testified that when her GP telephoned to discuss her complaint against Dr Skinner she advised the GP on more than one occasion that she had made no complaint? Have certain endocrinologists sought to bring this case in order to protect their own reputation?
- Why did the GMCs expert witness, Professor Weetman, provide testimony which appeared to be both biased and factually incorrect? His views were so extreme they were even contradicted by the GMCs second expert witness, Dr Lynn. Much of Professor Weetmans testimony related to sub-clinical hypothyroidism, which was not relevant to the case. His testimony should now be reviewed and questions should be asked!
- Will funding for research into hypothyroidism now be approved? Dr Skinner and others have long been calling for this, but during the Hearing Professor Weetman dismissed it as unnecessary. In the light of the experience of so many patients this attitude appears to be breathtakingly arrogant. Does Professor Weetman have influence over the projects to which funding is allocated? If so, his entrenched views are likely to remain unchallenged which is against the interest of patients. Equally, does he edit papers on hypothyroidism, which are submitted for publication? Again, his entrenched views will go unchallenged.
- Why has Dr Skinners treatment been successful where the NHS has failed for so many years? Professor Weetman largely put it down to a placebo effect. This provides the ludicrous prospect of a doctor dispensing placebos to scores of patients up and down the country with the effect lasting for many years. Possible future side effects [such as osteoporosis and heart fibrillation] were constantly highlighted without realising that patients would prefer to run that [unproven] risk rather than return to their former quality of life. The Panel had no understanding of that quality of life until they heard the testimonials!!
The related case against Dr Sarah Myhill has been dropped. The Hearing into Dr Skinners case not only declined to suspend him but described Dr Skinner as a caring and compassionate doctor. Surely this amounts to an implicit recognition that doctors should not regard the reference levels for blood tests as being sacrosanct and should not be afraid to prescribe thyroxin and other treatments where required? This message needs to be clearly relayed to practitioners up and down the country.
Every one of the 17 case histories should be re-examined in order that lessons can be learned and appropriate apologies made to the patients. Misdiagnosis and mistreatment is continuing to day and unless you take action to address the above issues you will be complicit in still more unnecessary suffering.