Asylum Magazine and Pharma-enmeshed Psychiatry

(See also a more recent piece on a ‘Medical Humanities’ paper co-authored by professor Spandler, with comments on her funding by the ‘Pharma-loaded’ Wellcome Trust)

(Expanded 12th January)

The decades-old Asylum Magazine (AsylumMag) claims to promote ‘open debate’, and has an edgy Twitter banner mocking dead Conservative politicians:

screenshot_2019-01-07 tweets with replies by asylum magazine ( asylummaguk) twitter(1)

But, surprisingly, it disagrees with my suggestion that similarly edgy ‘visuals’ are reasonably employed in highlighting the enmeshment of psychiatric (and other) academics and professionals with the pharmaceutical industry (Pharma). It has ruled that they are not ‘decent’. The choice of word recalls Margaret Thatcher’s contemporary, Mary Whitehouse:

screenshot_2019-01-07 tweets with replies by asylum magazine ( asylummaguk) twitter

AsylumMag, true to its ‘democratic’ editorial stance, claims to be a ‘collective’. However, it has a ‘Managing Editor’, which from early 2017 has been the academic Professor Helen Spandler:

screenshot_2019-01-09 helen spandler staff profile university of central lancashire

I met Profesor Spandler (who was then a senior lecturer but told me she was hopeful of being elevated) at the ‘Critical Psychiatry Network’ conference earlier this year, and asked about another UCLAN Professor, Dr Sue Bailey FRCPsych, who was President

screenshot_2019-01-09 sue bailey staff profile university of central lancashire

of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) from 2011 to 2014, and was then in an

screenshot_2019-01-05 from wendyburn sue - twitter search

arguably even more powerful position as the Chair of the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges from 2015 to 2018 (she still has a committee role there). She accepted an OBE in 2002 and a Damehood in 2014.

‘How awkward it must be’, I said, ‘to campaign on AsylumMag’s issues when your senior academic colleague was and remains a leading establishment psychiatrist responsible for failing to secure adequate funding for mental health, and failing to address Pharma influence’ (I paraphrase).

But I had not actually read AsylumMag for several years. Perhaps I covered this up a bit. Professor Spandler seemed rather evasive, and later when I looked at recent issues I found no criticism of any RCPsych committee members’ role in service funding or Pharma, let alone the Presidents’.

Every President since Dr Mike Shooter (2002-5, who did speak publicly about Pharma concerns) has been an academic professor. The RCPsych committees, especially the Psychopharmacology Committee, are dominated by academics.

Decades ago, funding for mental health and learning disability services was around 25% of total NHS spending. It has been 11-12% for the last decade, and RCPsych leaders have not made a serious effort to redress that. They trumpet each piece of ‘new money’ using their team of spin doctors and tame journalists, and use the range of distracting PR techniques that New Labour adopted so enthusiastically, but in fact the RCPsych has admitted that under ‘Dame’ Sue Bailey and ‘Sir’ Simon Wessely spending actually went down.

That had been reported a month before I met soon-to-be-Professor Spandler, but she seemed happier to talk about the nuances of Marxist theory in the 1980s ‘radical’ antipsychiatry movement than how today’s senior doctors are influenced by special pay awards and trips to Buckingham Palace to collect honours.

It would not be unreasonable to see Asylum Magazine as a self-censoring academic front for establishment psychiatry. That establishment falsely promotes the idea that there is a binary choice between anti-diagnosis purism and itself:

huda-18-read asylum


In a further piece(s) I plan to look at how AsylumMag was founded in the 1980s by a drug trialist with a dubious record on mental hospital closure, and how some of its other editorial policies can be seen as supporting fiscal conservatism.

About Dr Neil MacFarlane MRCPsych

Independent Psychiatrist providing culturally informed mental health opinion, advice, and a few new facts. Based near London, UK. Main qualifications: BA MBBS MA MRCPsych.

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