HEAL London

Health Education and AIDS Liaison - a more intelligent approach

Is there a doctor in the house?

A call for the support of more enlightened medical professionals


By a very large margin, the most frequent complaint HEAL London receives is about arrogant doctors who don’t listen to their patients. While many people seem to have had that experience at some time or other in their lives, it is particularly prevalent when it comes to patients who have at some time been diagnosed HIV+. In those circumstances many ordinary medical practitioners seem to become extra arrogant, extra bullying, and extra determined to pay no attention to the concerns the patient expresses.


One multiple occasions I’ve spoken to long-term survivors of an HIV+ diagnosis, who invariably either resisted the pressure to take any normally prescribed AIDS drugs, or else tried them for a short period of time and quickly gave them up. A common experience of people who still engage with the medical profession despite declining to take AIDS drugs is the persistent and coercive pressure to start taking them, usually by means of repeated and insistent fear-provoking warnings. A more sinister and possibly unlawful tactic is to deny access to other treatment unless the patient complies with recommendations to take AIDS medications.


It has now been widely acknowledged even by the most orthodox of AIDS professssionals that both the drugs and the doses of them given to people diagnosed HIV+ early on were deadly. Even Freddie Mercury’s own doctor has admitted that he realised subsequently the drugs prescribed to him were a mistake, essentially a tacit admission that Freddie Mercury's death was at the very least hastened by medical treatment. But medical professionals are reluctant to admit that the drugs themselves only superficially appear to be less toxic nowadays, for various reasons.


Different people have reported having had the following kind of conversation:


Doctor: “If you don’t start taking the drugs soon, it may be too late for them to do any good ”


Patient: “But if I’d followed your advice years ago, I’d be dead by now”


Doctor: “Ah…yes… but we know more now”


How confidence-inspiring. Doctors will only admit mistakes in the past when they can claim – with or without justification – that things have improved since. Rarely will doctors admit to flaws in the present.


The truth is, for any medical practitioner, dissenting against orthodox opinion can be hazardous to one’s career, regardless of whether one agrees with orthodox medical opinion or not. One senior medical practitioner I know well told me once, “You’re probably right [about HIV/AIDS], but I couldn’t possibly tell my patients what you’re telling me. I’d be struck off immediately”.


Without going into all the sociological reasons why so little dissent is tolerated within the medical and scientific profession on this topic, we have to acknowledge that the situation is real and so even medical doctors who harbour dissident perspectives have to do so relatively discreetly.


But we get frequent heart-felt pleas to be put in touch with more sympathetic, listening doctors who will take a more open-minded, holistic approach to health and well-being instead of the dogmatic, prescriptive – and very profitable for some – model of disease and ill-health of the NHS.


So this is essentially a request: Is there a sane doctor in the house? We promise to be discreet if you are willing to take on one or two patients who don’t want to be railroaded into having CD4 counts, viral load test and taking AIDS medications all the time.