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Physio subjected to ‘professional victimisation of the worst kind’

Leading pain expert and physiotherapist Professor Paul Watson has been ousted as president of the British Pain Society.

The move came amid claims he was ‘victimised’ for his role as an adviser to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

Supporters of the renowned clinician and academic, including the CSP, have rallied round him, asserting the rights of independent experts to perform their roles freely.

The BPS, a multidisciplinary organisation and charity with around 1,600 members, voted by 186 votes to 179 for Prof Watson’s removal as president at an emergency meeting on 21 July.

This followed a motion against him alleging ‘conflict of interests’, believed to have been brought by a group of mostly doctor members.

Prof Watson is head of pain management and rehabilitation at the University of Leicester. He was an independent clinical adviser to NICE on its guidance on low back pain published in May this year.

The BPS subsequently rejected the guidance as ‘flawed,’ disagreeing with NICE’s intepretation of evidence and specifically its exclusion of all injections for back pain. Some BPS members, including supporters of ‘interventionist’ therapies, regarded Prof Watson’s position as untenable.

Prof Watson, a CSP fellow, told Frontline he acknowledged there might be difficulty over the guidance but had not expected things to go so far. He said: ‘It’s a smallish group of very aggrieved people who managed to get themselves very well organised. Now we’ve got to deal with the consequences and try and pull the society back to being what I consider an excellent multidisiciplinary society.’

NICE chair Sir Michael Rawlins said it was ‘shameful’ that Prof Watson had been ousted for simply doing his job. He and colleague Professor Peter Littlejohns wrote to the BMJ saying the highly respected expert had experienced ‘professional victimisation of the very worst kind’.

The CSP backed the comments, saying other physiotherapists could be discouraged from engaging in high-profile roles for NICE and similar bodies.

CSP chair of Council Liz Cavan and chief executive Phil Gray said in a joint statement: ‘It is a great shame that the first non-medical professional president of the British Pain Society should be removed from office for supporting the findings of a recognised and respected statutory organisation.’

The BPS ruling Council said in a statement it was ‘saddened’ by the loss of an ‘excellent president’. The Council also said it was duty bound to allow a vote and, although it stood by its views on the NICE guidelines, this was ‘in no way’ a reflection on Prof Watson.

Dr Heather Cameron, of the Physiotherapy Pain Association, said the PPA was ‘shocked and deeply disappointed’ at the outcome of the BPS meeting. She said many members had indicated they intended to resign from the BPS but she urged them not to, saying ‘we are very keen to help heal the rift’.

Dr Cameron reiterated the PPA’s support for Prof Watson, saying: ‘Paul has behaved in exactly the manner that has and will continue to make him an excellent ambassador for both physiotherapy and the field of pain medicine.’

FURTHER INFORMATION

To read the CSP’s letter to the BPS and the PPA’s full statement, go to the news section of the CSP website at www.csp.org.uk

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