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Wonder women who took on medical establishment

18 May, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Dr Kim Holt and Her Majesty the Queen

FROM whistleblower to becoming a kind of wonder woman. From being regarded as a pariah to end up on a pedestal.

Looking back, the eminent consultant Kim Holt – she was attached to Great Ormond Street Hospital – must have savoured all these emotions as she took on the medical establishment … and won.

She had stepped over the line when she blew the whistle on the excessive workload confronting doctors in her department in Haringey.

Instead of being praised for standing up for patients, she found herself reviled, jobless and caught up in a nasty four-year contest until 2011 when, incredibly, she was reinstated in her old job and promoted to the top Haringey doctor empowered with “safeguarding children”.

That is why I regard her as a kind of wonder woman, though she would no doubt believe I had gone over the top with such a description.

But, imagine, she takes on all the bigwigs at Great Ormond Street Hospital – and they have all kinds of powerful friends in high political places, sticks to her beliefs, and ends up being given a top job.

There is a moral to this tale – and that is: if you see a wrong you have a kind of duty to oppose it.

Prof Allyson Pollock and Prof Wendy Savage

I am not the only one with admiration for Dr Holt. I knew she had been reinstated some time ago but more than that her fearless dedication to the principles governing doctors has won her one of the highest accolades – inclusion in a special publication, Medical Woman, supported by the Queen, celebrating 100 years of women in medicine. The editor, Jyoti Shah, a surgeon, appointed by the Medical Women’s Federation set up 100 years ago, wrote the stories of 80 women who shape the world of medicine today – women, whom she describes as being among some of the “brightest and most respected female medics”.

Jyoti told me she spent a year writing up roughly 1,000 biographies for each doctor.

“It was a labour of love, my husband saw me slumped over a computer every evening,” she said.

Jyoti wasn’t judgmental. She simply laid out the beliefs and struggles of the doctors. For each of them, in their own way, had to face conflicts they had never imagined would confront them.

After writing up their stories, she said she felt “humbled and inspired”.

Several among them occupy leading positions in this part of London – among them, Professor Allyson Pollock, who has attracted thousands of supporters in and outside the medical profession in her campaign against the privatisation of the NHS, and Wendy Savage, known as a staunch advocate of women’s rights in childbirth who, like Dr Holt, fell foul of the establishment and was suspended from her posts.

This centenary edition celebrates how these women – who are, the editor emphasises, a fraction of the most influential women in medicine – faced great obstacles, ridicule, even vicious animosity of their peers. But they soldiered on regardless.

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