14 Feb, 16 | by Iain Brassington
Lord only knows, it pains me to jump to George Osborne’s defence – more so by resurrecting a meme that was already past it when I was first invited to run this blog in 2008 – but on this one occasion, I’m going to have to do it.
Last week, the BMJ reported about a case in which a psychiatrist was struck off the medical register for having entered into a sexual relationship with a vulnerable client. That’s dodgy enough in its own right; but he also asked her at the beginning of the affair to promise not to report him to the GMC. That shifts the whole case from being only (!) deeply dodgy to downright despicable – in effect, he’s admitted in that that there is cause to report him for his behaviour, but then gone ahead with that behaviour anyway. The vulnerability of the woman with whom he was having the affair adds extra piquancy to the whole sorry tale.
I don’t think that there can be any objection to this sort of thing being reported, though it doesn’t get reported often. I don’t know how often the GMC hears this kind of case, or whether every hearing attracts coverage. Maybe cases like this get reported whenever they happen, but that they don’t happen all that often. Or maybe they’re not infrequent, but the GMC has the consistent bad luck only to hand down its verdicts on days when there are bigger news stories to eclipse them.
Or maybe – and I have a suspicion that this is so – it’s the kind of case that is much more likely to get reported when the perpetrator happens to be the brother of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Call me a cynic, but that seems… tolerably likely.
Exhibit A on the evidence table: the opening sentence of the story in the BMJ.
Adam Osborne, the psychiatrist brother of the United Kingdom’s chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, has been struck off the UK medical register for “blatant disregard of the fundamental tenets of the medical profession.”
Quite what George has to do with the story, and why the link to him is worth drawing is beyond me.
Ha! Just kidding. It’s not beyond me at all. It’s almost entirely to do with making the story enticing. Adam’s behaviour is no better or worse by dint of his family connections; they do nothing except to add a detail to something that would otherwise be merely sordid. And if you can offer a whiff of guilt-by-association by drawing a link between a creepy doctor and a prominent member of a government currently deeply unpopular among medics… well, so much the better, eh?
Now, the BMJ is not the only organisation to make this move: Adam Osborne has been in trouble before, and the BBC, for example, has never been reluctant to point out the family link. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think that the Beeb should be doing it either. For sure, the BBC is at the very least a general-interest news provider, whereas the BMJ could, I think, be expected to concentrate on medicine and medics; yet even that partial mitigation of the BBC is so dismally weak that the only reason to articulate it is to provide a space to air doubts about whether it should have been articulated.
The BBC shouldn’t be doing it; no news organisation should be doing it; the BMJ shouldn’t be doing it.
The same principle applies to other people with embarrassing siblings, of course. Yes, we know that climate-change “sceptic” Piers Corbyn is Jeremy’s brother. Unless Jeremy’s policies on CO2 emissions are influenced by Piers, though, that’s neither here nor there; and in the event that Piers does something even dafter than predicting that another ice-age will begin in the middle of next week, there’d almost certainly be no justification for roping in his Jeremy. The same rules apply. But since that’s not a medical matter, I’m not going to moan about it here.
I just want to make it clear that I’m not holding a torch for George on this. I may disagree with him about any number of things, but the conduct of his brother is one thing for which we shouldn’t throw brickbats at him. Leave George alone.