Dr. Waney Squier. Image via The Telegraph.
by Christina England
Health Impact News
On March 14, 2016, Health Impact News published a report describing how the General Medical Council (GMC) had found neuropathologist and defense witness, Dr. Waney Squier, guilty of misleading her peers, being irresponsible, dishonest and bringing the reputation of the medical profession into disrepute.
Taking further action to destroy her career and profession, on March 21, 2016, the GMC decided that it was in the public’s best interest to erase Dr. Squier’s name from the medical register, effectively removing her license to practice medicine and ending her medical career.
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper on Monday, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, the disciplinary arm of the General Medical Council told reporters that they:
“…had no option but to end Squier’s medical career, given her serial dishonesty.”
What Was Her Crime?
Before being professionally assassinated, Dr. Squier was thought to be the UK’s leading scientist in the field of pediatric neuropathology and had worked as a consultant at the John Radcliffe Hospital for 32 years.
Until 15 years ago, she, like many other professionals, had vehemently supported and adhered to the mainstream belief that when a medical professional suspects that an infant has been violently shaken, they must examine the baby for the “triad” of injuries believed to be associated with shaken baby syndrome (SBS).
However, after studying and examining the scientific underpinnings of what is only, after all, a theory, Dr. Squier began to develop serious doubts, which led her to express her ever-increasing scientific skepticism.
Those doubts are what ultimately led to the abrupt end of her successful career.
Professionals From Around the World Appalled: Write Letters of Support
Appalled by the GMC’s decision, Protecting Innocent Families (PIF) was one of many organizations to write to the GMC asking them to revise their decision. Writing on behalf of thousands of falsely accused families worldwide and defending Dr. Squier’s good name, the PIF wrote:
We are writing in the defense of Dr. Waney Squier, a pediatric neuropathologist who was struck off the medical register this week for practicing outside her area of expertise, ignoring the opinions of her peers, and bringing the reputation of the medical profession into disrepute with her testimony and written opinions in a series of shaken baby cases she helped defend between 2007 and 2010.
We know from personal experience that the prevailing model of shaken baby syndrome is flawed, a fact that is also supported by peer-reviewed literature. Although shaking an infant can cause serious injury and death, the presence of the intracranial and retinal findings now associated with shaken baby syndrome does not prove abuse, which is the vital message Dr. Squier brings to the debate.
We are dismayed that the Council is sanctioning her for having the courage and intellectual honesty to express her own views, which are not popular but which are founded on solid scientific thinking and the best available evidence. Many of these diagnoses are based on the presence of non-specific findings (thin subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhages, and encephalopathy) that can be associated with a number of medical conditions and accidental trauma as well as inflicted injury. It is a logical error to conclude that because abuse can cause the findings, the presence of the findings proves abuse.
We are a coalition of innocent families accused of child abuse and the scientists, physicians, attorneys, and neighbors who support us. We have been calling for an impartial, scientific review of the evidence base for the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome and other forms of child abuse by an objective body of scientists who can evaluate the known facts. Your decision regarding Dr. Squier illustrates how seriously such a review is needed.
We are dismayed both by the accusations themselves and by the details of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service report that led to your decision. The tribunal states, for example, that Dr. Squier erred by giving opinions on questions of biomechanics, a field in which she has no formal training. We find this criticism ironic, because the child abuse experts who testify that certain findings prove a child has been shaken also have no formal education in biomechanics.
Their letter was both firm and to the point and was signed by a large number of professionals, including:
- Bergina Brickhouse, Psychiatrist, Washington, D.C.
- David Ayoub, M.D., Clinical Radiologists, S.C., Illinois, U.S.
- Melissa Staas, Attorney, Illinois, U.S.
- Kimberly Leonard, Executive Director, Pediatric Justice Association, North Carolina, U.S.
Equally shocked and dismayed by the GMC’s decision, Dr. Uscinski, a neurosurgeon based out of Maryland, wrote to Health Impact News in support of his colleague. Expressing his view in no uncertain terms, he wrote:
The simple truth is that ‘shaken baby syndrome’ remains to this day not only an unproved hypothesis, but one which, under objective scrutiny, is lacking in scientific credibility. We may be enamoured with the notion of witches flying on brooms, but in reality the laws of physics say otherwise, and reality does eventually intervene, as doubtless it will do also eventually in Professor Squier’s case.
The founding fathers of my country, at the time of its inception, published a work known as the Declaration of Independence, the last sentence of which reads ‘To secure these blessings of liberty for ourselves and our brethren, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.’ Politics and history aside, we brethren of yours on this side of the Atlantic who are also engaged in this current strife understand exactly what these men meant. This is indeed a revolt against a (quasi-scientific) tyranny.
Ronald H. Uscinski, M.D.
Visibly shocked by the GMC’s decision, Dr. Squier told BBC reporters that she was devastated by the decision. In a recorded interview, she said:
I have done my best to give an opinion based on my experience, based on the best evidence that I can find to support my view. Backed by many, many people, cleverer than I am that are scientists, teachers, who are very well read and who understand the issues. If that that doesn’t hold sway, this is devastating and it means that the implications for giving evidence for anybody, any doctor who wants to give evidence in the courts are enormous because you can stand up and give an honestly held, well-supported view and find yourself out of a job.
Tribunal Panel Lacked Medical Expertise
Ironically, the panel of three so-called experts that the GMC used to ultimately seal Dr. Squier’s fate amounted to nothing more than a retired Royal Air Force officer, a retired police officer and a retired community psychiatrist who were inadequately equipped to understand the complexities of an infant’s brain.
GMC More Interested in Traffic Offenses than Science?
In regard to Dr. Squier’s case, the GMC made the following statement:
Our Chief Executive comments on the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MTPS) decision to erase Dr. Squier from the medical register.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:
This case was not about the science – it was about Dr. Squier’s conduct as a doctor acting as an expert witness. It was brought following criticism of her evidence by no fewer than four senior judges presiding over some of the most serious matters the courts have to deal with.
A doctor giving evidence in court is bound by the same standards as a doctor in clinical practice and by additional rules set down by the courts. They have a duty to act with honesty and integrity at all times, their work should be rigorous and their opinion presented objectively and fairly.
Cases involving allegations of injury to children are often complex and the courts must rule on matters that will affect the safety and custody of children and sometimes the liberty of adults – as such judges have the right to expect high standards of accuracy and objectivity from expert witnesses. If it becomes clear that a doctor has lost objectivity – by cherry-picking facts or research to suit their views or by working outside their area of expertise – that is a problem which we must look at.
What is not always understood is that neither the GMC, which is responsible for investigating doctors, nor the independent tribunal have any role in resolving differences of scientific opinion. (own emphasis)
It is a well-known fact that science is changing every day. In 2004, the International Council for Science wrote a paper titled Universality of Science in a changing world. They wrote:
The world has changed dramatically in the past decade, as has the role of science and scientists in it. It is important that the Universality of Science be defended even more vigorously than it has been in the past.
Progress in science is made through the worldwide exchange of ideas, information, data, and materials, and the understanding of the work of others. Science is a co-operative exercise that thrives on open international interaction and exchange. It transcends national boundaries. In this sense, science is universal and when this universality is infringed or impeded it can have serious consequences for science and for society more broadly. (own emphasis)
Some would claim that the GMC is out-of-date, and that science has evolved and left them behind in the process.
Vernon Coleman, writing for The Spectator in 2014, called the GMC “a nest of power-hungry bureaucrats,” stating that they had become “bloated” and “useless.” He cited one instance where the GMC was checking on “motor offences” of doctors.
In his report, Mr. Coleman wrote:
The General Medical Council, the GMC, is a curious organisation which is part charity, part quango, part government department and part protection racket.
After giving readers a brief background outlining the GMC’s tainted history, Coleman continued:
The real problem with the GMC, however, is that it has been given the job of licensing doctors. After the Dr. Harold Shipman scandal, it was decided in high places that ‘something’ had to be done to protect the public from dangerous doctors. Shipman, a general practitioner, had spent years methodically slaughtering over 200 of his patients and ministers were embarrassed. It was decreed that some form of regular testing should be introduced so that doctors in practice could be assessed.
The plans for doctors to have competence tests every five years, with annual appraisals in between, were drawn up in 2008 by Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the government’s chief medical officer at the time. Donaldson was instructed to do something by ministers who wanted to weed out rogue practitioners and to make sure that there would not be another Shipman embarrassment.
The GMC was given the job of finding a new way to assess medical practitioners. This was odd because the GMC was the body which was criticised for its culture and procedures in the official report into Shipman’s crimes.
Everyone knew that finding a way to assess doctors was never going to be easy. Older doctors, long out of medical school, were never going to accept any sort of academic assessment, and since modern medicine is still more of an art than a science, it was decided that it would be impossible to create a system which relied on assessing diagnostic skills.
Coleman explained that to resolve the problem the GMC had decided on a new tactic to destroy doctors, which he revealed involved each one of them spending hours filling out reams of paperwork. He stated:
The scheme is a bureaucrat’s dream and a practitioner’s nightmare; it seems to have been designed by the sort of people who have six ballpoint pens in their breast pocket and its rigidity has made life unbearably difficult for thousands of doctors, such as locums and ships’ doctors, who do not fit neatly into the system.
Some parts of the revalidation procedure astonished me. So, for example, the GMC asked for details of all my motoring offences — which included details of a 1984 speeding offence and a £5 fine I received in 1977 when an officious policeman spotted me hurrying to a suspected heart attack patient. (My astonishment abated when I discovered that Ms. Lindsey Westwood, who is in charge of the GMC’s revalidation programme, was just two years ago working for the Traffic Penalty Tribunal as an appeals manager. I do, however, find it interesting that the person the GMC have put in charge of checking the fitness to practise of every doctor in Britain was recently checking parking tickets for a living.) (own emphasis)
As the world comes to terms with losing the expertise of yet another talented and dedicated professional, one wonders if the GMC is truly fit for their purpose or whether they would just be better off working as traffic cops?
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