Monday, 2 July 2007

Deadly Doctors

I see that arrests continue in connection with the recent, humiliatingly botched, attempts at terrorism in London and Glasgow. Good - just because the perpetrators were appallingly incompetent doesn't mean they should be allowed to run around loose while they refine their skills.

Amongst those arrested are Dr Mohammed Asha (arrested on the M6) and Dr Bilal Abdulla, who was one of the men detained at Glasgow Airport. It is believed that Dr Bilal Abdulla worked as a locum doctor at Glasgow's Royal Alexandra Hospital, where his colleague, the driver of the Cherokee used in the attack, is undergoing treatment. Both Dr Asha and Dr Abdulla were trained and qualified overseas - Dr Asha in Jordan, and Dr Abdulla in Baghdad - before coming to work in the UK.

Controlled explosions have been carried out at the hospital, and the BBC reports that a further two individuals were detained at the hospital's residential block on Sunday. Whether these individuals were also doctors remains to be seen, but the Daily Mail reports that a man arrested in Liverpool in connection with the investigation is an Indian doctor who works at Halton Hospital in Cheshire.

In such a fast moving investigation, this is, of course, old news. But I am very, very concerned that, although there is much public dismay over the participation of apparently trusted medical men in such an atrocity, very few people are (publicly, at least) asking anything other than the most obvious questions about these revelations.

Firstly, how the hell did these guys ever get into such positions of trust? The medical profession is regulated by the General Medical Council, whose statutory duty it is to ensure that doctors are fit to work in the UK. As anyone who has ever had any dealings with the GMC will surely know, it is a large, lumbering, incompetent organisation with very little clue about how to perform its duties and an incredibly high opinion of itself.

Even for them, however, it is a bad day when not one, but, potentially, five doctors, who cannot work in the UK without the GMC's approval, are arrested on suspicion of terrorism. And if up to five terrorists have been at large in the NHS, treating patients, prescribing drugs and doing goodness knows what else, it is not unreasonable to wonder how many more of them there might be.

Worse, several days after the arrest of the first of these doctors, all of their names remain on the medical register, and, as such, they are legally entitled to practise medicine in the UK. While this may appear to be a minor technicality, a large part of the GMC's remit is to protect and reassure the public; how can the public possibly have any confidence in the GMC's ability to do that unless and until these doctors' registrations are suspended pending investigation? To do so is entirely within the GMC's authority, and its failure to carry out this basic precaution is yet another example of its culpable incompetence.

Clearly, as this fiasco must surely once and for all demonstrate, the GMC is not fit for its purpose and must be abolished without delay. In the meantime, I believe that Mr Finlay Scott, the GMC's Chief Executive, Professor Sir Graeme Catto, the GMC's President and Mr Paul Philip, the GMC's Director of Standards and Fitness to Practise must now tender their resignations without further delay.

Secondly, now that these doctors have, seemingly, shown their true colours, what is being done to reassure their former patients? I have seen no news coverage of NHS Trusts writing to patients, or offering advice to those who may have been treated by alleged terrorists, although it may be that this has been missed in the general hurly burly of a fast developing story.

Further, in view of their apparent intention to cause death and destruction on a very large scale, has anyone bothered to check the doctors' clinical records? How many, if any, of their former patients have died under their care, and in what circumstances? As was found in the case of Harold Shipman, a doctor is in a particularly good position to hasten the demise of their patients, and such behaviour would not be inconsistent with attempts to blow up night clubs and airports. Surely, a full audit of their clinical activities must now be carried out as a matter of urgency, with the results, whatever they may be, being made publicly available.

Thirdly, what steps are being taken to ensure that no more terrorist doctors remain in the NHS, whether or not they are directly associated with those already under arrest? It does not take any great leap of logic to realise that doctors who are also terrorists would be a particularly valuable resource to those who would bring devastation to our towns and cities.

Taking the worst case scenario, in a large-scale terrorist attack, there would almost certainly be many casualties, who would be taken to local hospitals for treatment. It would be terrible to think that those who survived the initial attack may then fall victim to a rogue doctor working in the Accident and Emergency department, who tried to complete the work that his co-conspirators had started.

Such a scenario is almost too awful to contemplate, and yet, in light of recent developments, someone, somewhere needs to give these eventualities some very serious thought. Public safety is of paramount importance, and must be given the highest priority, no matter how much inconvenience it may cause to the thousands of perfectly legitimate doctors working within the NHS.

Gordon Brown, who must be finding his current, grimly serious, visage to be a tremendous relief from the rictus grin he has had in place for weeks, is right on that point, at least: the public must be protected, and if it causes a little inconvenience so be it - Britain will not bow to threats, no matter where they come from, or what form they take.

Billy Seggars.

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