I finally understood what was meant by #Socks4Docs and it made all the difference


Whilst the meanings of hashtags can be immediately obviously, such as #EndPJParalysis, some meanings are possibly less obvious.

Yesterday, my timeline was littered by pictures of socks celebrating the #socksfordocs campaign. My immediate reaction on Twitter was this.

But thankfully somebody sent me a private message to explain the background to the campaign.

The background to this particular campaign is pretty amazing, and my reaction was to post a tweet with this picture this morning on my Twitter @dr_shibley.

The history is important for me. I have found campaigns about mental health pithy and largely from professionals who’ve had no personal experience of the sheer mental torture of mental health problems (important caveat: to my knowledge). A hashtag campaign is a nice way to ‘paper over the cracks’, especially in being seen to campaign about something, such as the mental health of doctors.

“Promoting the wellbeing of the workforce” has become a nice catchy slogan for some of the managerial class, but the reality was far from that.

Whilst being a junior physician in distinguished London teaching hospitals more than fifteen years ago, I was developing an alcohol dependence syndrome, in which I had no insight.

I remember one physician at a well known centre for postgraduate medical training in London, itself known for a suboptimal working culture. He told me over breakfast how I really should really book myself into the Priory, but did not offer any more details than that. He then went onto write a damning witness statement for the GMC, and later stood to be elected in the BMA Council elections.

I remember the witness statement of another physician, personally known to the physician above as they had somehow trained together, being read out in one of my GMC hearing days. It referred to me looking ‘dishevelled’ and ‘smelling of alcohol’. This witness statement arrived at the door of the GMC two years after I left. I was offered no professional help in that NHS Trust either. Two consultants were asked to produce witness statements for the GMC from that Trust; one of them recently indeed stood to be President of the Royal College of Physicians (but thankfully lost).

Amazingly, I was allowed to complete my 2 six-month jobs with them whey KNEW I had an active problem. Patient safety?

The General Medical Council never asked me for my experience of being alcoholic as a junior doctor. I have done much reflection on this following the events, particularly since I have never worked in medicine ever since. But for the NHS Practitioner Health Programme, there had have been literally nobody apart from my own treating Psychiatrist on my side.

The General Medical Council all the time claims that it never engages in guerrilla warfare to get people off their register. As it happens, coincidentally, a flurry of reports designed to induce a moral panic, but which never included reference to my mental illness, appeared, so I had to face a double stigma – a double stigma indirectly which I experienced while waiting for my 2006 GMC hearing for two years, and the stigma of my alcoholism. The cover up, including the journal of my trade union, was complete in its lack of proper discussion of the severity of my alcoholism, as that would have ruined their story. Nonetheless they continue to dribble out the odd item on careers and mental health.

I think simple things might have helped at the time, for example if I had followed the GMC code of conduct in being disclosing to a GP about my problems. But at the time it was totally unsafe to disclose to your GP about mental illness anyway, because of the torrent of investigations which would then be launched by the GMC. While you are under investigation by the GMC, you then of course have to notify any employer.

The intense hostility I experienced from the institutions within the medical “profession” is one which I will never forgive the profession for, and I don’t think I should ever want to work for them ever again. There’s a sense to me some of the members of it want it to be some form of Aryan race, only to represent the purest of the pure. But this is as ‘science fiction’ as the notion that registered doctors never make any mistakes.

So, what’s this got to do with #SocksforDocs?

It turns out the suicides of three young Doctors in New South Wales in Australia led to calls for a review of ‘mandatory reporting laws’ which can stop doctors from seeking help.  It is reported that Professor Brad Frankum, president of the Australian Medical Association (NSW), has said that he has been aware of three young doctors in training who had taken their lives, as well as two senior doctors and a young medical student.

“They were going to save many lives and do great things, and that potential is lost,” he said.

The timing of the two year wait for the GMC I experienced in 2004-6 is relevant. By the time of my hearing in 2006, I had already on one occasion tried to commit suicide by going on a massive binge.

A GMC review of 28 doctors who died by suicide while under fitness-to-practise investigation between 2005 and 2013 was damning. Analysis presented elsewhere continues to look fairly at whether these suicides were preventable.

How much morbidity and mortality has to be tolerated? A newly qualified GP voted ‘Trainee GP of the Year’ hanged himself after fearing he would be struck off by the GMC for failing an alcohol test, according to an inquest. According to a report, a young doctor, 34, had been warned by the GMC not to drink after he self-referred for ‘other issues he was having’, which resulted in restrictions on his practice, the court heard.

32 is the year I had my hearing with the GMC. A year later, having been off the register, which I spent mostly sitting in a pub drowning my sorrows, I was admitted to the Royal Free as an emergency, having sustained a cardiac arrest and epileptic seizure. I spent 6 weeks in a coma, and became disabled.

But thankfully I am still alive, and caring now for my mum full-time, as she has dementia. In fairness to me, I have published various medical books, as I have a keen interest in medical education.

I think the way the medical profession, including regulation, deals with mental illness is actually corrupt to the core. The medical profession largely does not wish to admit that mental health problems exist within its workforce, as it sees mental illness as a question of blame and fault. The regulator does not believe in rehabilitation at all., but only in retribution It only is interested in the ‘red meat’ of a hostile environment to placate its Daily Mail readership. It does not believe in a learning culture, but does believe in the perks of being employed at its institution. The whole culture is totally sick; for example, the GMC has only just announced the launch of its review into why black and minority ethnic doctors are more likely to face complaints from employers than their white colleagues.

As for me? I could never be happier. I am respected for who I am, and doing the job which matters to me – looking after my mum.  I owe the medical profession absolutely nothing, and I have successfully completed  my pre-solicitor training, my Bachelor of Law, my Master of Law (with commendation) and my Master of Business Administration.

And much to the disgust of the complainants, I am now on the GMC medical register with a full license-to-practise currently.

All of the complainants against me were white and middle class.

It has been reported that

Chief executive Charlie Massey has used a speech at the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) conference this weekend to announce the review, which will be led by two experts in leadership diversity.

Speaking to Pulse, Mr Massey said the work would look at ‘elements of conscious and unconscious bias’ and ‘workplace cultures’.

Euphemisms if ever I heard them.



[NOTE: I dedicate this blogpost to @williamwyhuang.]