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Medical moles

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 27 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4706
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

Although most health professionals are dedicated to preserving people’s privacy, a few have turned their hands to ferreting out and exposing secrets. Thomas Wakley, founder of the Lancet, sent medical students undercover to report back on bungled operations. But the consummate mistress of the dark arts was a nurse, Elizabeth Alkin, who doubled as a spy during the English civil war.

Little is known of Alkin’s private life beyond the fact that her husband Francis was hanged by royalists in Oxford. Under the codename Parliament Joan, Alkin sought revenge in the service of parliamentary generals by sniffing out …

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