Only One Side Gets to Tell Their Story When Nurses Disagree About Covid

26 November 2021

by Professor Roger Watson & Dr. Niall McCrae

Coronavirus: Key workers are clapped and cheered, but what are they paid? -  BBC News

During the Covid pandemic nurses have largely basked in praise, enjoyed being clapped for, and possibly deservedly so at some points of the crisis. Undoubtedly some, but by no means all, hospital intensive care units were overwhelmed. We heard all about that and were treated, interspersed with TikTok pranks and dances, to stories of exhausted nurses and the sacrifices they were making, followed by demands for a pay rise. Nurses were not so quick to tell us that when Covid cases were declining, that the unused Nightingale hospitals were a huge waste of resources and that, while millions were on furlough and thousands lost their livelihoods, that they were enjoying a full salary throughout the pandemic and, thereafter, continued job security. Largely speaking, nurses were ‘on message’ with the lockdowns, the face masks and vaccines. But not all nurses were, including both of us.

One of us was the subject of a thinly veiled attack in the editorial pages of the Journal of Advanced Nursing, one of the oldest, most respected, and the highest cited academic nursing journal in the world. The thesis of the diatribe was that there was only one side to the Covid crisis, that the public health message must not be contradicted and that prominent members of the profession must not speak out in contravention of that message. We would find ourselves on the ’wrong side of history’. It must be comforting to live with such a delusion. Both the Nazis and the Bolsheviks considered that they were on the right side of history; one by predestination and the other through the inevitability of the Marxist dialectic and the uprising of the proletariat. Where are they now?

The editorial is free to read – “Nurses on the wrong side of history: Covid risk minimisation, vaccine refusal and social privilege“. It is notable that the second author is the current Editor-in-Chief of the journal. It may also be worth noting that both of us are former editorial board members of the journal and one of us was the previous Editor-in-Chief for 10 years. Being on good terms with the current Editor-in-Chief, he emailed her to enquire about the possibility of a rejoinder and received a very positive reply. He also put up a complimentary message on Twitter saying the editorial was constructive and well written and that he hoped a debate would be possible. Towards that end we prepared a constructive and polite rejoinder (reproduced in its entirety below) and duly submitted it. The response was a flat refusal to publish.

It has long been our contention that the measures taken to address Covid have been disproportionate and that they have eroded some basic freedoms, principally free speech. We consider that this has been demonstrated in abundance both in the detail and tone of the original editorial but more so in the response to our rejoinder. If a leading and well established academic journal cannot provide a platform for constructive debate, having published a completely one-sided attack, and tolerate within its pages views which challenge the editorial line, then we have entered an even darker side of debate, or lack of it, in academic nursing. After all, the certainty with which the attack was framed, and the seeming impregnability of the arguments, should have given them confidence that they were right and that we would look like fools.

Naturally, we are disappointed by the response of the Journal of Advanced Nursing, but more so, we are saddened. Nursing has struggled for decades to emerge from under the shadow of medical dominance, to establish itself as an autonomous profession with its own regulatory frameworks and, more recently, its own evidence base. It is nothing short of pathetic to see those two things having been attained only for nursing to disappear under the shadow of political dominance. Our rejoinder follows:

We read with intrigue the editorial by Kelly and Jackson ‘Nurses on the wrong side of history’ which criticised registrants who doubt or oppose the Covid narrative. We are grateful for this opportunity to offer a contrasting perspective and to raise some questions arising from the points made.

The essential thesis of Kelly and Jackson is that some influential nurses and other health professionals are doing harm by questioning the orthodox message, as promulgated by the mainstream media, about the public health risks of Covid. The present authors identify with these awkward nurses and healthcare workers, both of us having been published in a series of non-mainstream media outlets that have been willing to accommodate our scepticism.

Our beliefs are informed by the presence of one of us in Wuhan, China, in the early days of the novel Covid and the other by the early vacillation of international health agencies over the measures that would be required to prevent the spread of the virus. Both of us were concerned that, while new and largely unknown, we could calculate that the virus was of similar lethality to influenza, on the one hand, and that a series of drastic and demonstrably damaging measures was initiated including widespread economic lockdown and the adoption of surgical face masks, neither of which were supported by sufficient evidence to justify the costs. In addition, we have questioned, and continue to do so, the reported efficacy of the Covid vaccines. These have been reported as being up to 90% effective which has encouraged their uptake by the public who do not realise that, in fact, based on absolute risk reduction, they are only approximately 1% effective. Moreover, in relation to Covid vaccines the side-effects (to which one of us can attest) and the deaths are no secret and demand caution in advocating widespread rollouts across all age groups with the likelihood of compulsory vaccination for an increasing number of occupational groups. To question the propriety of nurses, however prominent, and other healthcare professional questioning the public health message and not accepting all of it, undermines free speech. Those of us who use the ‘argument of free speech’ are exercising no more than a basic right to express our opinion on an established narrative and help people to make informed choices about public health measures that, in one swoop, have restricted freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of speech and, for care home workers and probably hospital workers, freedom of choice and the ability to earn a living.

The assertion that expressing such views comes from a position of ‘social privilege’ is strange given that the most widespread and earliest measure to tackle the pandemic was economic lockdown. True, the present authors, and the authors of the original editorial, are socially privileged. But it was also socially privileged epidemiologists, Government scientific and medical advisers, and health promotion professionals, mainly from the comfort of their home offices on full salaries and well supplied with IT linked to the internet who were advocating indefinite periods of reduced or no wages, with many losing jobs, for some of the least privileged of society. Simultaneously, others belonging to the less privileged echelons were expected to deliver food, books, and luxuries to our homes, with a much greater proportion succumbing to and some dying of Covid. One of us, as a trade union officer, has represented hundreds of workers of lower socio-economic class being dismissed by middle-class managers who seem relatively unaffected by the Covid regime.

There is an element of ‘political purge’ in the authors’ remarks on dissenting nurses, such as their observation that ‘some are no longer allowed to be on the professional register’ as though this is quite banal. One of us represents nurses in disciplinary action by employers for stepping out of line with Covid culture. Some have been reported by their employers to the U.K. Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for professional misconduct. To want nurses to be struck off for exercising their critical thinking and concern for patients and colleagues (thereby practising their code of conduct) is a sinister development.

With both of us having relatives working in the NHS, we have no doubts about the detrimental impact the pandemic has had on some in the health workforce, including deaths of nurses and doctors. Juxtaposed with that we are also aware of the vastly exaggerated figures related to the spread of Covid based on faulty modelling and the wildly over-estimated number of deaths we were primed to expect. Deliberately misleading information was used, and admitted to, in the name of public health and the ensuing panic led, in the U.K. alone, to a bill for the taxpayer of £75 billion, much of it enriching already well paid tycoons and ending up in the coffers of unaccountable offshore companies. Vast amounts of equipment never reached workers in care homes and the NHS; thousands of ventilators remain in storage in Ministry of Defence warehouses and a series of completely unnecessary ‘Nightingale’ hospitals were built, and never used. All of this was based on faulty modelling. All but three of the initially appointed advisers remain on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. One, mainly responsible for faulty pandemic modelling and who undermined his own credibility and resigned for breaking lockdown rules, is interviewed almost daily on the BBC. It seems that free speech and access to the mainstream media may be more related to saying what people want to hear rather than providing accurate information. Nurses who wish to bring these facts to the attention of peers and the public are being pilloried while those who promulgate demonstrably inaccurate information, but behind the smokescreen of ‘public health’ continue to do so with impunity.

The editorial singularly fails to present any evidence of those nurses allegedly on the ‘wrong side of history’ being factually wrong. However, we completely respect their right to express their view. Concomitantly, we reserve the right to be wrong if any of the points we promulgate regarding: the ineffectiveness and disproportionately detrimental effects of economic lockdown on health, mental health (including suicide) and education; the efficacy of surgical and cloth face masks (other than as a virtue signal); and the exaggerated effectiveness and the demonstrably detrimental effects of the Covid vaccines and the possibility of an age related crossover based on time since vaccine administration whereby vaccines are leading to greater susceptibility to Covid can be refuted.

Finally, we would like to ask the authors some questions on their stance:

1. Do they uphold the ethical principle of informed consent?

2. Do they believe there are risks as well as benefits from the vaccines?

3. Do they believe that masks are necessary for prevention of respiratory viruses? 

4. Do they believe that testing for Covid is accurate?

5. Do they endorse exemptions from the Covid vaccine?

6. Do they respect and uphold scientific debate? 

7. Do they believe in freedom of speech, or would they prefer that dissenting voices are silenced?

Both Professor Roger Watson and Dr. Niall McCrae are Registered Nurses.