My career as a muckraker

I read a plaintive piece by a doctor on Facebook who asks if any medical journal will publish his account of what sounds like appalling corruption in his hospital. He knows that the answer is probably “no,” but it reminded me of what I thought was an article arguing that “muckraking is an honourable trade” and that medicine needs a Private Eye, a British satirical magazine that combines satire with muckraking.

I searched for the article on the BMJ and found only my 2008 review of a book by Phil Hammond, a doctor who has for more than two decades written a column on dreadful goings on with the NHS.  I’d completely forgotten it (one of the pleasures of being old) but was taken by the first paragraph.

“Reading a book that is based on 17 years of Phil Hammond’s Private Eye columns on the NHS was like drowning: my past flashed before my eyes. The Bristol scandal, London’s health system “near collapse” (1992), junior doctors overworked then underworked, butcher gynaecologists (a selection to choose among), duplicitous politicians, poor stroke services (1998), Stalinism, arrogant surgeons, secretive royal colleges, and a thousand clinical failures—all of NHS life is here, and in many ways it makes a much more raw, real, and satisfying read than the largely self-congratulatory material that accumulated around the NHS’s 60th anniversary earlier this year.”

But where was the article on muckraking? I couldn’t find it in the BMJ, so I searched the files on my computer and found the article below.


This, I know, was published in 2001–because I remember being in New Zealand just after 9/11, feeling very far away, worrying that there might be an attack on London, and finding the daffodils discordant. (It was also on that trip that I discovered New Zealand Pinot Noir, one of the world’s great wines.) So my “article” was not an article at all but a talk: I found the Powerpoint. I wondered about turning it into an article but didn’t think it worth it.

I then remembered a talk entitled “Is medicine corrupt?” which I retitled “Of course medicine is corrupt, the question is how corrupt.” The talk has 68 slides, and as I flipped through them I found the argument convincing. I should have turned that into an article, but it’s too late now.

So I’ve raked some muck in my time, but I’m not  sure that I’ve raked enough to qualify as a muckraker, a noble profession.





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