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Journalists – if you’ve got a problem with us, come out and say it



I don’t suppose any of you Meeja-types are reading this, are you? But just on the off-chance, I thought I’d flag up an opportunity for you to ease my temporomandibular joint dysfunction. Because I do find that one of your regular journalistic tics is causing me to clench my molars in masseter-spasmic fury.

What’s getting my TMJ’s is your lazy, provocative use of language – the way you casually imply that all doctors lie on a spectrum somewhere between feckless and evil.

If you have some sort of axe to grind with the medical profession, why not just tell us and we can debate it properly?

Three examples, off the top of my head, from recent weeks:

1 ‘Doctors dismissed it as a virus.’

2 ‘Doctors hand out antidepressants to adolescents with mental health problems.’

3 ‘Doctors’ blunders under scrutiny.’

And yes, for anyone who knows anything about anything in medicine, that’s really how it is, isn’t it? We show seriously ill, non-viral patients the door with a stern and dismissive point of the finger. We stand on street corners with a big trough of SSRIs to dish out to any hooded youth who looks a bit pissed off, which is all of them. And yes, we blunder into perfectly functioning medical scenarios and deliberately or stupidly trip over catheters, yank out IV lines and accidentally give the patient an intracardiac injection of methotrexate, whoops.

That’s actually what happens, it really does. In the mind of the reader, anyway. Try, on the other hand, swapping ‘misdiagnosed’ for ‘dismissed’, ‘prescribe’ for ‘hand out’ and ‘errors’ for ‘blunders’. Those stories aren’t undermined – and nor am I. But the image and implications for the readers are subtly different, and significantly less anti-doctor.

Look, if you do have some sort of axe to grind with the medical profession, why not just come out, tell us and we can debate it properly? Otherwise, stop the drip-drip poisoning of public perception. Because it’s not that big a leap from doctor with jaw-ache to one who becomes genuinely blundering, dismissive and profligate through progressive disillusionment. And that will be a monster of your own creation.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield