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Diagnose and be damned

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 20 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1376
  1. Harvey Marcovitch, consultant paediatrician
  1. Horton Hospital, Banbury

    Doctors who have exposed child abuse are being hounded. Harvey Marcovitch, editor of Archives of Disease in Childhood, believes that the media are making matters worse

    A few years ago, I found a neat roll of documents tucked behind a radiator outside my office. It contained letters, minutes of meetings, and suggestions on how to run a campaign to combat doctors' diagnoses of child abuse. Most were reasoned, but some were written in crude language and bristled with anger. The package had been planted where I would find it. I think it was meant to frighten me.

    Last year, sitting in the editorial office of Archives of Disease in Childhood, I was handed some letters, headed with a private address, asking whether we had ever received for publication, but subsequently rejected, papers from the North Staffordshire Hospital on continuous negative pressure ventilation. My explanation that we did not keep records of rejected submissions beyond one year met with incredulity. The correspondent wrote again complaining that she knew I was covering up the existence of unethical experiments on newborn babies.

    The anti-doctor website

    This week, I logged on to and found a bulletin board for “Mothers against Munchausen syndrome by proxy.” It was full of attacks on named paediatricians and child psychiatrists, and diatribes against two judges, a member of parliament, and various social workers. The accusations included perjury, conspiracy to defraud, attempted blackmail, and child abuse. More than one contributor claimed that judges and an MP in the Lord Chancellor's department had connived to prevent legal aid being granted to sue doctors who had diagnosed abuse. One message, to a neurologist, stated: “I promise I will make it my life's work to finish you for good.”

    Another message attacked David Southall, professor of paediatrics at the University of North Staffordshire: …

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