Archbishops and Admirals…

What do you suppose the following had in common: the American President Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, the German Emperor Frederick (Friedrich) III, the author of Household Management, Mrs Isabella Beeton, the impressionist painter Édouard Manet, the post-impressionist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the gangster Al Capone, the composer Frederick Delius and the jazz pianist Scott Joplin, the Irish authors Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, the revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, the dictators Benito Mussolini and Idi Amin, the billionaire Howard … Read more

Donald Trump and the pathology of leadership…

Dame Iris Murdoch, the Dublin born novelist, won the Booker prize for fiction in 1978 for The Sea, The Sea. Her final novel, Jackson’s Dilemma, was published in 1995 and was met with a muted response from the critics. She was subsequently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease which was confirmed on post-mortem after her death in 1999. Subsequently, a textual examination of The Sea, The Sea, Jackson’s Dilemma and her first novel, Under The Net, showed that her vocabulary was considerably reduced and ‘commonplace’ in her final novel, but extensive … Read more

What is the future of the NHS in the 21st century?

In his 1942 Report, Sir William Beveridge, a Liberal patrician, identified five ‘giant evils’ — Want, Ignorance, Squalor, Disease and Idleness. The Welfare State was founded in the immediate post-war period to improve the social conditions in the UK. The country was then bankrupt from war exertions; despite warnings, mainly from Conservatives, that the Welfare State was unaffordable, the Labour government, trusting in Maynard Keynes’ assertion that ‘we can afford whatever we want’ went ahead. The National Health Service was born … Read more

The government’s idea of compelling doctors to work for a period in the NHS…

The general public regards the NHS as something between a ‘sacred cow’ and a ‘national treasure’, despite all the pressures that it is under. For decades it has provided a universal service, largely free* at the point of use. The public may have a collective memory of the abysmal provision before it was introduced; to see just what changes it made, you have to look for ‘the short and simple annals of the poor’ — you could start by reading … Read more

The Belfast Bikes and trying to understand mindless vandalism…

The Irish Times reported recently that 210 or more than one-third of the 576 ‘Belfast Bikes’ had either been stolen or so damaged that they had been taken out of service. They contrasted this with the similar scheme in Dublin, where only twelve bikes were stolen or damaged in the first four years of the scheme. Belfast City Council said the problem was due to ‘mindless vandalism’; the Irish Times noted that the bike locks in Dublin were more substantial … Read more

Rights are tricky things, especially when it comes to the ‘right to life of the unborn’ and the ‘equal right to life of the mother’…

I get a distinct feeling of unease when I hear an individual or a group on the media complaining that their ‘rights’ to something have been infringed. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that these people can make any such claim, but they are often vocal in their assertions. A group, for example, may take over a vacant property and ‘squat’ there; when there is an attempt at eviction they will claim that they have ‘squatters’ rights’. Perhaps they do have … Read more

The Pathology of Leadership – What happens when our leaders are not fit enough to lead?

Just over a year after the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, his personal physician, Lord Moran, published Winston Churchill: the Struggle for Survival 1940 – 1960. Moran’s 800 page book was based on the diaries he had kept. Moran was vilified and excoriated for this; not only had be betrayed confidences, but he had broken the sacred bond of doctor-patient confidentiality. Some month later, when his critics had read the book, they saw that Churchill had been severely … Read more

The Third Child and the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’…

The ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ scored another ‘success’ recently, though only for women in N Ireland. The Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) Act 1967 was copied word for word from the equivalent legislation in Great Britain. The Act was a revision of the law, a tidying-up, eliminating the previous classification of misdemeanour and felony, and introducing the concept of an ‘arrestable offence’. The NI Act has a completely different Section 5, introduced specifically as anti-terrorist legislation. In this, it’s clear … Read more

Should doctors strike?

There is to be a further strike by junior doctors in England next week. They will not work between 8 am and 5 pm on 26 and 27 April. In previous strikes, cover for emergencies was maintained; this time it is ‘all out’. (The strikes, and the challenges of the new contract, don’t apply in Wales, Scotland or N Ireland.) The strikes come as negotiations between junior doctors and the Department of Health have broken down. The negotiations were about … Read more

No head injury is too severe to despair of, nor too trivial to ignore…

Following a recent boxing match with Chris Eubank Jnr, Nick Blackwell was taken to hospital and placed in an induced coma because of ‘bleeding on the brain’. Thankfully he has since awoken from his coma. The skull is a rigid bony box which contains the brain, blood vessels and a small quantity of fluid. When injured, any organ will swell. Within the skull there is little room for the brain to expand or swell. If the brain has been injured, initial medical … Read more

Department of Health announce new guidelines on abortion in N Ireland

Good Friday this year was on March 25. March 25 is also Lady Day, the Feast of the Assumption, when Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to tell her that she was with child. So you might well think it a strange, tactless, day for the Department of Health to announce new guidelines on abortion in N Ireland. Perhaps they thought it was a a good day to slip out news, perhaps the commemorations of the Rising would overshadow the … Read more

John Bodkin Adams: An alleged serial killer from Randalstown suspected of killing over 160 people…

John Bodkin Adams was born in 1899 in Randalstown, educated at Coleraine Inst, and qualified in medicine from Queen’s Belfast. He worked as a GP in Eastbourne on the Sussex coast. He was tried for murder in the 1950s, but acquitted. Subsequently, there have been suggestions of political interference at the highest levels in his trial. He was described as the wealthiest GP in England. It is now believed that he could have murdered 160 of his patients. Wikipedia has … Read more

Torture and Cognitive Dissonance

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir? —JM Keynes A couple of recent, unrelated articles caught my eye. The New Scientist carried a review of ‘Why Torture doesn’t work’, a forthcoming book by Shane O’Mara, an academic at Trinity, Dublin. The scientific answer is that torture doesn’t work, in the sense of getting at ‘truth’, for people will say anything in an attempt to end their torment. People will falsely confess, something that’s “alarmingly … Read more

George Monbiot on abortion “The religious conservatives who oppose these measures have blood on their hands.”

The Guardian ran a series of articles about abortion in N Ireland recently (details here). Now, George Monbiot has turned his analytical mind to this issue (here). His article is well worth reading in its entirety. He produced some remarkable information; whether legal or illegal, the incidence of abortion remains constant: Here is the fact that everyone debating abortion should know: there is no association between its legality and its incidence. In other words, banning abortion does not stop the … Read more

So just what is traditional marriage anyway? A short history…

Although the same-sex marriage vote just passed in the Assembly, it was vetoed by the DUP, as if same-sex marriage would seriously impinge on the sanctity of traditional marriage. Yet the concept of marriage—both the ceremony and the institution—has changed a lot throughout the millennia, and it continues to change. There’s a useful, broad summary here. Even within the Christian Church theological opinions have altered markedly over time, as have cultural beliefs. If being pregnant out of wedlock is unremarkable … Read more

Desmond Curran brother of murdered Patricia Curran reported dead in South Africa…

De mortuis nil nisi bonum In March this year I wrote a short piece about the murder in 1952 of Patricia Curran (here). Patricia was the daughter of a judge, the police investigation of her death was thwarted by the judge, a ‘confession’ was obtained from an innocent man who, in a travesty of the legal process, was found ‘guilty but insane’ and incarcerated in a mental hospital for seven years. This man was Iain Hay Gordon; no explanation was … Read more

How feasible is a 7 day NHS?

So, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary for England and Wales, wants consultants to work a 7-day week, and is prepared to impose this. Simon Hamilton, the local Health Minister, agrees. This demand is based on there being 6,000 extra and unnecessary deaths (in England and Wales) when patients are admitted at the weekends. This assertion is questionable. Elective patients are admitted during the week, and not so much at weekends.  Ancillary services in the community may be reduced at weekends; A&E departments … Read more

Life, death and heartbeats…

The diagnosis of death is mostly straightforward; the medical practitioner looks for somatic, cardio-respiratory and neurological features. Clearly, someone with rigor mortis is dead. Someone with no spontaneous breathing, no heartbeat and no pulse, and whose pupils are fixed and dilated presents the classical features of death. This is usually enough to diagnose most cases of ‘death’, though as the Victorians had a morbid dread of being buried alive, the tradition of requesting a surgeon to open an artery persisted … Read more

The Duties of a Doctor. Morality and conscientious objection…

Medical practitioners who wish to practice medicine in the UK must by law be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). If you do not practice, you are not required to register. The GMC is a regulatory body which publishes guidance on the ‘Duties of a Doctor’. Much of this is about registration, and practice in general. In the Republic, the [Irish] Medical Council performs a very similar regulatory and guiding role today (here). The British Medical Association (BMA) is … Read more

The blame game. What doctors can learn from pilots…

You wouldn’t immediately think that airline pilots and hospital consultants, particularly surgeons have—had—much in common. Yet both are in positions of power and control, both are ‘authority figures’ with ‘God-like personas’. There’s one very large difference; the airline industry today operates a ‘just culture’, a ‘no blame culture’; is this the case in medicine? This was the subject of a recent BBC radio documentary, here. Airplane disasters make for sensational headlines; there is often a great loss of life, and … Read more