Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Medicine needs its MI5

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 20 December 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1677
  1. Duncan Campbell (, investigative journalista
  1. a IPTV, 45 Frederick St, Edinburgh EH2 1EP


The time is long overdue to add another arm to the policing of medicine. In this article I suggest changes to lever out of the profession the small minority of doctors who would be guilty of serious misconduct, to the benefit of patients and practitioners alike. On the evidence, most of them might currently reasonably expect to escape either exposure or sanction, for various reasons. We need an organisation that would employ informants and agents, run anonymous telephone “tipoff lines,” hire undercover investigators, and use for example, secret recording devices and cameras. Readers who feel that this sort of life should be limited to west Belfast in the 1980s have an understandable case. Such an investigatory recipe might have been even more indigestible six months ago, before Professor David Southall revealed that he had secretly installed hidden cameras in the paediatric wards of the Royal Brompton and North Staffordshire Hospitals. His results—38/39 cases of suspected infant child abuse resulting in care orders and 33/39 in criminal prosecution—both speak for themselves and explain why there was no press backlash to suggest that Southall and his team had breached sacrosanct clinical principles. Read what follows with that in mind.

Why complaints currently fail

My proposals are based on personal experience of bringing unethical practitioners before the General Medical Council (GMC) and of acting against unqualified “quacks” at the disreputable end of alternative medicine. All of the four complaints that I have taken to the council have resulted in the practitioner concerned leaving the medical register for life—three practitioners by order of the council's professional conduct committee, one voluntarily. The record of Dr Frank Wells and Peter Jay, who run Medicolegal Investigations (a private medical investigations company), is far more impressive. By last July 17/17 complaints brought to the council by Wells and Jay had resulted in …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription