Dr Sarah Myhill exploited patients’ lack of medical knowledge by arousing ill-found fears for their health, say GMC
According the General Medical Council’s register, Dr Sarah Myhill was issued with a formal warning by the GMC in October 2012 to run until October 2017. The warning says:
On Dr Myhill’s website she made statements in relation to contraception and breast cancer screening that were factually incorrect; clinically unsubstantiated; and contrary to national guidelines. In so doing she used her position as a registered practitioner to exploit patients’ lack of medical knowledge by arousing ill found fears for their health. This conduct does not meet with the standard required of a doctor. It risks bringing the profession into disrepute and must not be repeated. The required standards are set out in Good Medical Practice and associated guidance. In this case, paragraph 57, 62 and 65 are particularly relevant. ‘You must make sure that your conduct at all times justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession.’ ‘You must not put pressure on people to use a service, for example by arousing ill founded fears for their future health’ and ‘You must do your best to make sure that any documents your write or sign are not false or misleading. This means that you must take reasonable steps to verify the information in the documents, and that you must not deliberately leave out relevant information.’ Whilst this failing in itself is not so serious as to require any restriction on Dr Myhill’s registration, it is necessary in response to issue this formal warning.
Though it may be true, that stuff about exploiting patients’ ignorance and fears isn’t a pleasant thing to have said about you, so it’s hardly surprising that the record of her battles with the GMC on Myhill’s website stops short of mentioning that the October 2012 hearing even took place, let alone the outcome. Even some of those who identify as Myhill’s supporters don’t seem to know about it.
Thankfully, the GMC provides the publishable minutes of the hearing:
In an email dated 9 February 2010 Mr A, Senior Clinical Scientist, wrote to the GMC with concerns that patients were being misled by the advice on your website…..Mr A alleged that the advice contained on your website was contrary to national guidelines, specifically those of the NHS, The Department of Health and NICE. He was concerned that the advice was placing patients at serious risk.
The Committee concluded that Myhill’s actions were “a significant departure” from “proper standards of care”.
It has balanced your interests with those of the public and in doing so the Committee has determined that the following warning is an appropriate and proportionate response in this case.
As everyone with an interest in the case now knows, the complainant – called “Mr A” in the minutes – was one Stuart Jones. He complained about Myhill’s website to the GMC; the complaint was eventually upheld or largely upheld, and Myhill got a five-year warning. Sounds straightforward and it should have been – except that Jones made the mistake of disparaging Myhill on an internet forum, thereby becoming a target for those who really don’t care about vulnerable people being misled by factually incorrect information by doctors in private practice and who think Myhill should be free to say whatever she likes.
Some readers will recall that I blogged about Jones’ complaint to the GMC and the so-called witch hunt against Myhill back in April 2010. This was after Myhill had attended an interim hearing in connection with two complaints about her and, as a result, was suspended from practising. One of those complaints came from a group of doctors and concerned her recommendations for treatment to a patient she hadn’t met; the other one was Jones’ complaint about her website. One can only speculate whether she would still have been suspended if the only complaint about her had been the one from Jones, which was only about her website.
That earlier post of mine is still one of the most viewed posts on this blog. When it first appeared, it attracted many comments, including some from ME sufferers expressing appreciation. A lot of Myhill’s supporters linked to it but not one of them turned up to disagree with any part of it – probably because there was nothing in it they could reasonably dispute.
The only person who objected to it (though she wasn’t brave enough to comment beneath it) was some struck-off doctor called Rita Pal who, most entertainingly, had a big tantrum on her own blog about it. I understand from her tweets that she was offended because, after I quoted something she wrote on her own blog about Jones (whose name she didn’t know at the time), I said she sounded like a nutjob and I called her a silly moo. She seems to think that’s defamation.
Here’s a reminder of what she had said:
Perhaps the big girls blouse will fight like a real man and stop “hiding behind the skirts of the GMC”. Of course, identification is really easy really (sic), we get the IP, we get the internet company and we get the address. It is about a 48 hour job if I put my mind to it…There will be no problems in outing Dr /Mr Anonymous. After that, we will do what was done to Dr (name redacted). The matter was faxed to all local papers, to every PCT and posted on the internet. In the end, (name redacted) became depressed….
Pal’s comments, as nutty as they seemed at the time (and still do), gave a taste of things to come. In February 2012, Andrew Kewley left this comment for me beneath that earlier post.
It seems this story was a case of ‘the boy who cried wolf’. The GMC dropped the case against Dr Myhill and the person who made the complaint pleaded guilty of misconduct.
The suggestion here seems to be that Jones’ complaint against Myhill was found to be vexatious and that this was the ‘misconduct’ he pleaded guilty to. In fact, as we know, his complaint against Myhill was upheld. So Jones wasn’t “crying wolf”.
As for Jones pleading guilty to misconduct, this was not about the fact that he’d complained about Myhill but about the disparaging comments he’d made on a thread on the Bad Science forum. The thread was eventually removed from the forum but not before one of Myhill’s supporters had copied it and sent it to the Health Professions Council (as it was then called), of which Jones is a registrant.
At a hearing on 20 December 2011,* the Conduct and Competence Committee of the HPC found that making disparaging comments about Myhill on an internet forum was “inappropriate and unprofessional” and “had the potential to damage public confidence in him and his profession”. The Panel also decided Jones’ fitness to practise was “impaired by reason of misconduct” and that, “public confidence in the profession and the HPC’s regulatory role would be undermined if a finding of impairment of fitness to practise was not made”.
[The Panel] notes that this case does not involve any issues in relation to the Registrant’s clinical competence and further notes that the misconduct did not cause any patient harm…Further, it is the Panel’s judgement that the majority of his posts on the Bad Science Forum were not inappropriate and that there is a low risk of reoccurrence of his misconduct.
My bold. Myhill’s supporters like to bang on about how no patient has actually been harmed by anything she’d done but they didn’t extend that same consideration to Jones when deciding whether to complain about him. Just saying.
Jones expressed “genuine remorse” for the disparaging comments he’d made and the Panel cautioned him for just two years – the usual benchmark for cautions being three years, so we are told. It expires on 18 January 2014.
In his blog post entitled, ‘The GMC owes Stuart Jones as apology‘, jaycueaitch makes the obvious point that Jones did not identify himself on the Bad Science forum and, were it not for the GMC breaching the confidentiality of this complainant, nobody would even know his name, never mind his occupation. There would be no “potential to damage public confidence in him and his profession” – nor potential to damage confidence in the regulatory role of the HPC.
The complaint against Myhill by Jones was motivated by concern about potentially dangerous advice she had on her website. It would seem that the complaint against Jones by Myhill’s mate, who was supported by Myhill herself, was motivated entirely by malice and a desire for revenge.
The final outcomes of the respective complaints were a five-year warning for Myhill (and her having to amend her website) compared to a two-year caution for Jones. Enough said.
Why did I decide to blog all this now? Well, because it seems that at least one of Myhill’s supporters – the author** of the mistitled ‘Child Health Safety’ blog, which is largely devoted to trying to misinform people about vaccines – is feeling pissed about the fact that, in a couple of weeks, Jones’ caution will have run its course and he can put it behind him. For this reason, the man (?) at CHS has sunk lower than any sewer-dwelling internet bully I’ve ever seen before – and goodness knows he’s got plenty of competition. He is seriously trying to pin an alleged suicide of one of Myhill’s patients on Jones, on everyone else who participated in that Bad Science forum thread and on the owner of the Bad Science website himself, Ben Goldacre.
‘Patient Committed Suicide After His Doctor Was Hounded By Dr Ben Goldacre’s Badscience Forum Internet Bullies’, says the title of his January 3rd blog post.
The patient, who was suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome at the time [also known as ME] killed himself, according to evidence from his doctor, because he mistakenly believed his doctor was no longer allowed to treat him: ‘Deluded quack’ jibe nearly ruined doctor’s career, Daily Telegraph, 21 December 2011.
Only an idiot could fail to spot these flaws, so it comes as no surprise to see that Rita Pal appears to have swallowed the story hook, line and sinker and has even written a blog of her own about it.
For those similarly challenged, please try to grasp the following:
1. Myhill did not get suspended because of anything said on the BS forum by SJ or by anyone else.
Nobody submitted the Bad Science thread to the GMC as evidence against Myhill and it was not taken into account by the GMC’s Interim Orders Panel when they made the decision to suspend Myhill. So the original story’s headline – ‘Deluded quack’ jibe nearly ruined doctor’s career – is a complete falsehood. Myhill’s suspension and the existence of the BS thread disparaging her are totally unrelated.
2. The story about this alleged suicide doesn’t come from any coroner’s court but from Myhill’s own mouth.
She told it when giving evidence against Jones at the HPC hearing occasioned by their silly and malicious complaint against him.
Edited 7.1.14 to add a link to Chemo brain’s blog, which points out that,
Myhill appears to have created a huge dependency in her patients, who seem to believe she is a guru in the treatment of ME/CFS, something seriously discouraged by best medical practice. Indeed, in Jones’ FTP hearing, Myhill bragged that a patient had killed himself, believing that the GMC was going to prevent Myhill treating him. This isn’t something a Doctor should be bringing the attention of enquiring minds, and has yet to be confirmed.
I have already revealed that Myhill’s regard for the truth is somewhat casual. In my last blog I quoted her categorical claim that Lynn Gilderdale had died from ME. It turned out that the source of this misinformation was none other than Lynn Gilderdale’s grieving mother, whose supposition that it was the BCG vaccination that had triggered Lynn’s ME was also repeated by Myhill as if it were a verified fact. In fact, Lynn Gilderdale had committed suicide with the assistance of her mother, who was given a one-year conditional discharge for her part.
3. Nobody had said Myhill wasn’t going to practise again.
The alleged suicide of Myhill’s nameless patient took place while Myhill was suspended by the Interim Orders Panel and well before the actual hearing, which was originally scheduled for November 2011. At that stage nobody – including the GMC itself – knew whether or not Myhill was going to have her license restored. So who told this patient of Myhill that she wasn’t going to be able to treat him again? Not Jones for sure.
Nor Ben Goldacre for that matter. I confess I’m not in the least concerned about CHS’s (and Rita Pal’s) bigger target, or about his web forum. I’d wager that for every disparaging comment made publicly about Myhill, a hundred more have been made about Goldacre. But, unlike Myhill, he doesn’t snivel and whine about the disparagement, nor try to get revenge on his critics. Why would he when he already enjoys the kind of influence that the likes of CHS-man, Pal – and Myhill herself for that matter – can only dream about?
It’s sad that CSH-man is so consumed with hatred that he would try to bring down a young clinical scientist who made a mistake, expressed remorse and has now served his sentence – but let’s look on the bright side. Not many people knew that Sarah Myhill is under a five-year warning from the GMC for exploiting patients’ ignorance and fears but, thanks to CSH-man’s malice waking me from blogging slumber, many more people will know now.
*The full transcript of the HPC hearing has been very kindly been posted here. The passage about the alleged suicide starts towards the bottom of page 9.
As I’m sure you can imagine, one’s professional reputation is very important. Of course the business as well, patients stopped consulting me. In fact, there was one patient in particular who thought because I had been suspended I could no longer could be consulted. I don’t know if this happened directly as a result of that but the man deteriorated and he actually committed suicide. That’s just one example of how one patient was very seriously affected. I don’t know if that’s directly as part of Mr Jones’ blogging but it resulted.
This is the only reference to the alleged suicide in the whole transcript.
**I’m told that CSH-man is Clifford Miller, solicitor, erstwhile member of Andrew Wakefield’s legal team and that this is common knowledge because he used to state his name on his blog. I wonder why he doesn’t any more.
***I’ve since learned the story was only in the print edition of the Telegraph