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Being a doctor is hard. Although it is an incredibly interesting and rewarding life, I automatically recoil at people who say it is the best job in the world. Come on. Presumably there are people who work in quality control at Murphy’s Brewery. I doubt if any of them would swap places with me when I’m colonoscoping a poorly-prepped patient who is emptying their bowels most of the way up my right arm.
Yes, it is a good career, but it is also a very difficult one. You are invited in on a daily basis to the worst moments in strangers’ lives, when they themselves are often at their worst. You live with the knowledge that a misplaced word while tired or stressed or a wrong decision in an everyday setting can have enormous consequences for a patient’s life and cataclysmic ones for your own career and family livelihood. Decisions based on decades of experience that have to be made in seconds are analysed by inquiries that last for months. It is hard. It doesn’t really need to be made any harder.
On Saturday, 25 September, the Irish Independent newspaper carried a front-page banner headline saying, ‘Who’s vetting our doctors? Tralee hospital rape case. Gardaí gather forensic evidence.’ The headline was accompanied by a photograph of a shifty-eyed individual in surgical blues, mask and headgear bearing an expression that would make Mengele look like Patch Adams. The very serious and disturbing allegations are currently being investigated and will hopefully lead to a just outcome, but the way this has been reported by a series of media outlets is worthy of scrutiny.
The Irish Independent reported the story on 19 September in an article by their health correspondent, which said ‘Doctor accused of raping patient flees country’, with some other media outlets following suit. If one Google’s the above headline, the search engine finds it immediately, but when one clicks on some versions of the article, it becomes apparent that the word ‘doctor’, which was used in the original piece, has now been retrospectively replaced by the slightly more nebulous term ‘medic’. In real time, as the week wore on, the designation of the accused went from the initial shrieking ‘doctor’ to the more circumspect ‘medic’ and finally to ‘health worker’. Radio Kerry, on the other hand, seemed to have no hesitation about describing the accused as a radiographer, which was his job, long before the reluctant national media felt able to do so. Why the reluctance, I wonder?
The review article in the Irish Independent on 25 September, which was written by a journalist more usually associated with reporting on music, was as confused as the headline was misleading and mendacious. The article refers to a grade of non-consultant medical doctors, even making up an abbreviation ‘NCMD’ that I, for one, have never heard of. Reference is made to the serious attack being “carried out by someone from within the medical profession” and the word ‘doctor’ is used numerous times in the piece. Even though by then several media outlets had placed in the public domain, the fact that the suspect the gardaí were seeking was in fact a radiographer, that particular word is not mentioned once.
‘You live with the knowledge that a misplaced word while tired or stressed or a wrong decision in an everyday setting can have enormous consequences for a patient’s life and cataclysmic ones for your own career and family livelihood’
References are made in the same piece to doctors who have appeared before the Medical Council due to difficulties in simple tasks like taking pulses and reading x-rays, as if committing a serious sexual assault is somehow the next logical step from being an incompetent doctor. Attempting to link vetting processes for doctors to a rape allegedly committed by a radiographer is an absolute non-sequitur.
The Independent has, not for the first time, disgraced itself with this entire farrago. If they wanted to have a go at doctors, fine. Lord knows, it wouldn’t have been the first time and it won’t be the last, but to hijack and misrepresent the details of a serious assault on a vulnerable patient in order to do this is a new low indeed.
Our jobs are difficult, but in any transaction with a patient, we are always in only the second-most difficult position. Patients rely on us every day and come to us with fears that are manifold. For the biggest-selling daily newspaper in the country to use their platform to add to them in this manner is beneath contempt.