Readers’ editor blog: A BMJ poll about Sir David Nicholson

David Payne Sir David Nicholson, head of the NHS in England and chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board, has faced repeated calls for his resignation after publication of the Francis Report inquiry into failing at Mid Staffordshire Foundation NHS Trust. Nicholson was chief executive of the strategic health authority overseeing the trust for a period when death rates were found to be high.

Last week the BMJ’s weekly online poll asked UK readers if he should resign. Of the 736 votes cast, 88.4% (651 votes) said he should. Because the subject was very NHS focused, we ran separate polls for our India and US online editions.

Polls usually run for a week, and the subject/wording gets decided at the editorial team’s Tuesday morning meeting for inclusion in that week’s print issue. The issue goes to press on Tuesday evening and reaches UK readers on a Friday or Saturday. We also promote polls on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

On Friday evening a Department of Health press officer left a voicemail for BMJ editor in chief Fiona Godlee. He wanted to discuss the poll. The BMJ press officer left a message with the DH press office, but so far they have not got back to us.

A poll’s wording tends to generate lots of internal discussion. This one was no different. When we first proposed it one colleague suggested that we amend it to “Are calls for Sir David Nicholson’s resignation reasonable?” We thought this was too lily-livered.

Another colleague wondered if we should wait for a future BMJ article calling for his resignation. We usually link to a relevant article online, but as there was no article in the pipeline, we felt the delay would sacrifice topicality.

There was a further concern that the poll wording was too ad hominem, but we felt we had to be specific and name the person.

It isn’t possible to comment on BMJ polls, and although we haven’t run any articles explicitly calling for Nicholson’s resignation, we did have this response to an editor’s choice article about the Francis report. He said: “No. Dismiss. Deny further employment. Deprive pension. Gag him. Blow his whistle.”

Should the BMJ have run this poll?

David Payne is editor, bmj.com, and readers’ editor

 

  • notactualsize

    1. Yes, you should have run the poll. And yes, the wording is appropriate.

    2. But it’s a shame readers can’t comment on the polls, a point I’ve made before in rapid responses. These polls suffer from self-selection bias and small sample sizes. Their wording isn’t always as careful and unambiguous as this one. They should be interpreted with care.

    3. Another potential problem is if or when they’re quoted elsewhere in the media as a “BMJ poll” without the context and necessary caveats. For example, see http://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e7191/rr/621006. Here I do believe the BMJ has a special responsibility, given the current behaviour of the Daily Mail newspaper, amongst others.

    4. As you know, the Mail is calling for Nicholson to resign. It has repeatedly reported the results of some very small and unrepresentative online polls – like yours – as strong evidence (yes, really) that the entire NHS workforce wants him to go. I’m not confident that it’d report yours any more responsibly or accurately.

    5. Thank you for telling us about the phone call from the Department of Health. Your readers should know about it.