Battle of the ALAMA

Battle of the ALAMA

“I am at liberty to vote as my conscience and judgement dictates to be right, without the yoke of any party on me… Look at my arms, you will find no party hand-cuff on them. ”
David Crockett

In 1835, Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (1794-1876) threw out the nation’s constitution and made himself dictator.  Many Americans in Texas, as well as Tejanos (Mexicans in Texas), hated this blow to their liberty and the growing tensions between Mexico and Texas erupted into violence when Mexican soldiers attempted to disarm the people of Gonzales, igniting the Texan war for independence. Like other states discontented with the central Mexican authorities, the Texas department of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas rebelled in late 1835 and declared itself independent on 2 March 1836.

The Battle of the Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836) was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Mexican troops under President General Santa Anna attacked the Alamo Mission near modern-day San Antonio, Texas, United States, killing all of the Texian defenders, one of whom was the famous Davy Crockett.

In an ironic twist of events, Santa Anna had fought for Mexico’s independence from Spain, only to decide to crush the independence desired by the people of Texas.

The Texas revolution finally ended at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. It had been an uprising in defence of liberty.

Santa Anna shared a characteristic common to many other dictators. He was as contemptuous of the views, and rights, of the people of Mexico as he was towards the Texians. In 1824 Santa Anna gave his opinion as, ‘A hundred years to come my people will not be fit for liberty. They do not know what it is, unenlightened as they are, and under the influence of a Catholic clergy, a despotism is the proper government for them, but there is no reason why it should not be a wise and virtuous one.

In 2016, a senior representative of an organisation named the ALAMA, which boasts a membership of just 300 occupational health doctors, seems to have experienced a fit of pique. He lobbied the GMC in an attempt to get it to change its rules so as to exclude a certain class of people from the principles of confidentiality and respect for patients’ privacy that all doctors are expected to understand and follow. That class of people was disabled former police officers.

The ALAMA representative wished to prevent them from exercising their right to see a copy of any report written by a SMP before it is sent in to the commissioning authority. He wished to see disabled former police officers also lose their right to withdraw their permission for any such report to be sent in should they find fault with it. (See the guidance on line at

The lobbyist was Dr Bulpitt, who is Force Medical Advisor for Avon and Somerset Constabulary. He is is the official police representative of ALAMA –  the Association of Local Authority Medical Advisors. He is no Santa Anna, but from him there emanates more than a whiff of the characteristics which distinguish dictators. His approach to the GMC demonstrates that he is contemptuous of the considered democratic view of the eminent GMC, which sets the standards which the more than 281,000 doctors registered with the GMC are required to follow. We are also suspicious that his lobbying was a personal campaign, and does not truly reflect the views of the members of ALAMA.

In ALAMA’s name, Dr Bulpitt has discarded the self evident truth that the GMC guidance follows legislation and complies with legislation. He fails to see that when the law isn’t applied to some, it doesn’t apply to any.

But is it the position of ALAMA, or the views of one man?  We can’t tell if it is the organisation as a whole which is intent on destroying the rights of disabled former police officers, or whether Bulpitt’s lobbying is an example of an individual unilaterally abusing his position within ALAMA to perform some sort of ‘Game of Thrones’ politics of power play.  

Dr David Bulpitt’s position and influence within this small organisation does not just have local consequences within Avon and Somerset. ALAMA represents many of the doctors who work as SMPs across the country. Should Dr Bulpitt’s views sway the GMC to amend its guidance, then that will affect every injury award review and injury award application nationwide.

Unlike Davy Crockett, who solely relied on his conscience and judgement, this particular doctor has the yoke of best practice defined by a regulatory body to adhere to –  best practice that he wants to have the ability to choose when to park aside and who and when to exempt, to suit his own agenda.

ALAMA was founded after a conference on inhalation hazards in Firemen held in Edinburgh in March 1979. In April 1980 a follow-up meeting for local authority doctors in Manchester saw the start of an ALAMA steering committee.

The declared aims of the Association were to hold an annual meeting, to develop some kind of link with the Society of Occupational Medicine, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the British Medical Association.

Plainly, its founding aims were not to lobby the GMC to discriminate against certain cohort of people! So, what is the exact lobbying we are talking about?

The GMC are currently reviewing their 2009 Confidentiality guidance – making sure it is “relevant to doctors’ needs and to be compatible with the law throughout the UK.”  The public consultation on the revised draft of the guidance on confidentiality closed on the 19 February 2016.

In January 2016, almost three months after he had professed to the Home Office that he had already contacted the GMC, Dr Bulpitt used ALAMA headed notepaper to belatedly write to that organisation.

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Within his letter he compared the right of certain specified members of the public – who happen to be people retired from the police service – to withdraw consent for medical reports (under the Access to Medical Reports Act) to being synonymous to condoning a repeat of the 2014 Glasgow bus catastrophe that killed six and injured fifteen others.

Just like the Tejanos in 1835, we are understandably appalled at the attack upon our liberty. Such purging of protection under the law for chosen targets leads inevitably to greater and greater abuses and more and more destruction of rights. This process was aptly chronicled by  Martin Niemöller … to misquote this pastor, “First they came … for the people with disabilities. And I did not speak out because I did not have a disability”.

Dr Bulpitt sets his scene by first constructing a diversionary straw-man argument. Ignoring the contentious and unlawful mass review programs instigated by a minority of police pension authorities to reduce their ‘financial exposure’ to the cost of police injury on duty pensions, the doctor starts with smoke and mirrors by saying the OHP (occupational health practitioner, in other words the SMP) is only concerned with the fitness to work, in an attempt to sway the GMC Assistant Director for Standards & Ethics away from his true agenda.

Why let the truth get in the way of a good yarn? That his lobbying has no basis in fitness to work, dealing as it does with the destruction of the rights of people pensioned off from the police service, doesn’t cause Dr Bulpitt to see the irrelevance in his narrative.

Clinical Information obtained and recorded by OHPs, especially during a one off assessment, is exclusively for the purpose of advising employee and employer on fitness for work.  Therefore the consent to request this information is made in that context. Clinical  information is not obtained to provide clinical care and therefore the basis of the consent to  request it is quite different from Drs who provide clinical care.

According to the Introductory Memorandum to The Police (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006  the Police injury awards do not depend on membership of the Police Pension Scheme, but are in effect compensation for work-related injuries (the degree of disablement in relation to capacity to earn).

Continuing to omit things which irritatingly do not tally with his story, Dr Bulpitt fails to say that a great many SMP’s have in fact become of late a pale shadow of the independent and impartial decision-makers which they are required to be in law.  He leaves out the inconvenient fact that he regularly demands clinical information including full medical records since birth; expunges from his lobbying of the GMC the information that the occupational health unit almost always did provide clinical care to the injured police officer whilst injured and still in service.

Apparently, in Dr Bulpitt’s version of the parliamentary process, it is only civil servants in the Home Office that ‘sets down’ legislation, conveniently forgetting the role of the Houses of Commons and Lords.

The Police Pension Scheme serves as a particular example of where clarity is urgently needed as to whether additional consent is necessary once an individual has requested their employer to enter them into the process for health assessment, and consideration for payment related to ill health. At present GMC guidance appears to sit uncomfortably with the Regulations for the Police Pension Scheme which are set down in Legislation via the Home Office.

Rather peculiarly, the official ALAMA representative’s letter goes from faux concern for Council employed drivers; Police Officers using Firearms; Teachers with responsibility for children, on directly to his real bugbear – the Police Pension Scheme.

Could it be that mention of other local authority aspects were just a diversionary tactic?  Is his real true agenda purely to convince the director of ethics that there is an imagined disconnect between GMC guidance and the Police Injury Benefit Regulations?

At present GMC guidance appears to sit uncomfortably with the  Regulations for the Police Pension Scheme which are set down in Legislation via the Home  Office.

IODPA would like to see evidence of where this proclaimed inconsistency lies. We believe there is no evidence. Dr Bulpitt chooses not to explain himself, and presents as fact something which is wide open to critical challenge. We believe that the current GMC guidance is based on a careful and rational analysis of the Regulations and of relevant court cases which have addressed the issues of confidentiality and consent in respect of reports commissioned by employers and pension scheme managers.

We have witnessed too many instances of reports written by SMPs which contained factual inaccuracies, incorrect application of the Regulations, and which exceeded the limitations of the brief of the SMP to see very readily why Dr Bulpitt wants these reports to be winged direct to the commissioning authority without scrutiny.

He fears that injury on duty pensioners have finally become aware that their rights under the law, and under GMC’s guidance, have consistently and widely been denied. He fears that a high percentage of reports will be subjected to withdrawal of consent and will not land on the desks of HR managers. His ambition to manipulate the Regulations so as to effect reductions of pension payments would be thwarted.

His letter to the GMC exposes very clearly that this doctor has only the wishes of his paymasters in mind, and cares nothing about the health and well being of disabled former police officers, nor cares anything for their right to continue to receive the level of pension their injuries deserve.

Current GMC guidance requires that the patient is offered a copy of the OHP’s report about  them before it is sent. Many Drs consider that the guidance leaves ambiguous whether the  patient is then able to withdraw consent at that point and thus prevent release of the report  to whoever commissioned it.

We would like to request that the GMC consider an additional section in future guidance
advising Drs and patients specifically for situations where health assessments are requested  by third parties from specialist OHPs and which particularly recognises the impartial role of  OHPs making clinical assessments generally and especially in
The context of Health and Safety Legislation.
• When instructed in accordance with the terms of insurance typically in a Pension
• When instructed under Regulations set down under legislation e.g. by Home Office

In their reply the GMC calmly proclaims that Dr Bulpitt’s grotequese bus tragedy analogy is already covered by the guidance and the exception Dr Bulpitt demands is given short-shrift.

Our understanding is that patients are entitled to withdraw consent for a  report to be disclosed to a third party unless there is legal requirement to disclose the information, or disclosure can  be justified in the public interest (for example, because failure to disclose the information could leave others at a  risk of death or serious harm).

So what can the ALAMA learn about the Alamo?

After he defeated the rebels at the Battle of the Alamo, President General Santa Anna unwisely divided his forces, allowing Sam Houston to surprise him at the Battle of San Jacinto.  Santa Anna was captured and forced to negotiate with the Mexican government for recognition of Texas’ independence and sign papers saying he recognised the Republic of Texas. He returned to Mexico in disgrace and retired to his hacienda. The people of Texas fought on for freedom and, eventually, on December 29, 1845, Congress admitted Texas to the U.S. as a constituent state of the Union.

Perhaps members of ALAMA will think it wise to consider how this particular representative is behaving and see fit to distance themselves from his lobbying techniques. The majority of conscientious and hard-working occupational clinicians do not deserve to have their ethics sullied by the machinations of one doctor.

One of Crockett’s sayings, which were published in almanacs between 1835 and 1856, was: ‘Always be sure you are right, then go ahead’

Every time we observe the lengths some twisted minds go to subvert the rights of others, IODPA is reinforced that we are right to keep going ahead.