Education And Debate

An unfree NHS and medical press in an unfree society

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 17 December 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1644
  1. Richard Smith
  1. BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, editor.

    Last year I wrote an editorial on free speech but was stopped from publishing it. Our lawyers and insurers advised against publication. The full story still cannot be told. I will say, however, that the editorial was written in a white heat after receiving faxes from two sets of lawyers saying that if we published anything on a particular topic without consulting them legal action would follow. I had never heard about the topic until we received the faxes, and my instincts were to find out everything I could and publish a full story. Unfortunately that could not be, but much of the editorial I wrote concerned the general issue of free speech within the NHS and in medical journals. A revised version of that editorial is printed below.

    Free speech has probably never existed within the NHS, and seven years ago we gathered together 20 examples of where attempts had been made to suppress important health information.1 Today we publish a second set of examples (p 1640),2 and most NHS employees feel that restrictions on freedom of speech have become much more severe since the health service has become more commercial.3 4 Speaking up on deficiencies within a hospital was once a public duty; now it is viewed as a betrayal of the competitive interest of …

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