7 Nov 2009

When Science, Politics and Psychiatry collide!

There is a crisis at the moment over here in the UK. Prof Nutt the chair of the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs was recently sacked at the end of October 2009. Prof Nutt has not been received favourably in many UK Psychiatric circles because he is seen by some as instrumental in trying to down grade cannabis from a class B to C drug - and the Government over here weren't happy either. [There are three classes A, B & C. Illegal possession or supply of these substances, leads to imprisonment ranging between 2 and 14 years depending on class]

Prof Nutt was sacked from his unpaid role as chairman ACMD because [See BBC - Mark Easton - 2009-10-30] according to Alan Johnson "As chair of the ACMD you cannot avoid appearing to implicate the Council in your comments and thereby undermining its scientific independence." .

Mr Johnson stated that Prof Nutt did not comply with the Code of practice for Scientific Advisory Committees.

The BBC 2009-11-03 reported that Prof Nutt was asked to step down because ".. he had failed to distinguish between providing advice and criticising settled policy.".. and that ".. Gordon Brown strongly backed the decision, saying Prof Nutt had repeatedly undermined Labour's drug message."

Further, Alan Johnson wrote in the Guardian 2009-11-02 that "He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy. This principle is well understood and long established." And to Sky News 2009-11-01 Mr Johnson said "What you cannot have is a chief adviser at the same time stepping into the political field and campaigning against government decisions. You can do one or the other. You can't do both." [Prof Nutt]  "..crossed the line between offering advice and then campaigning against the government on political decisions."

The Conservatives have supported the government's decision - Surprise! Surprise! - whilst the Lib Dems haven't.

Prof Nutt is a psychiatrist with specialist registrations in General Psychiatry and Psychopharmacology. He is an outspoken man who normally has a sound evidence base for his conclusions. He apparently has locked horns with the lovely Jaqui Smith. The final straw for the government came when delivered a lecture in July 2009, in his capacity as an independent academic, at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Amazingly or amusingly it was alleged that the Government came to a belief that his lecture was some time in October 2009. [CCJS-1]. However, there is nothing in Alan Johnson's letter that refers to any specific dates on which breaches of standards in public life - referred to as the Nolan Principles - took place. Many are finding it difficult to see where and how Prof Nutt's public and academic beliefs came into conflict with codes of practice or the 'principles'. Or were such breaches of a sufficent 'nature' or 'degree' to warrant a kicking?

Study the text of his controversial lecture in July 2009 - and read the CCJS press release in which it is reported, "To prevent one episode of schizophrenia, he argues, it would be necessary `to stop 5,000 men aged 20 to 25 from ever using' cannabis.

I do not believe that this whole matter is simply about the science and the 'numbers'. Science does not often dictate government policy - or does it? I'm not sure this is simply about a conflict of interest. It seems that on balance Prof Nutt did cross a certain line - however imperceptibly.

I wonder what the more intelligent on or orf dee Rock think - doh 'fraid to jumpeen and have yuh say.