Words by Tony Britton
The apology was immediate and obviously sincere – but it failed to answer two key questions: who was the “muppet” who designed the programme (to the left) for today's paediatric study day in Exeter and what did it say about the judgement of the eminent clinicians who signed up to speak at and attend the event?
A barrage of complaints about the title broke out yesterday as soon as details of the study day were circulated on the internet and social media.
Typical of the complaints was this one from MEA medical adviser Dr Charles Shepherd, who came late to the controversy yesterday evening. He emailed South West Paediatric Club, who organised the study day, first thing this morning.
Dr Shepherd wrote:
Having seen the details of your study day – with the title A Day with the MUPP(ET)S – on the internet, a number of our members are contacting The ME Association to say that they find the title, which I assume was used to create interest and amusement, to be unprofessional and insulting to children with unexplained medical symptoms, as well as to children and adolescents with ME/CFS, which is one of the subjects being covered.
As I am sure you are aware, the dictionary definition of a MUPPET is quite derogatory: An alternative term for an idiot or moron. Usually used in the UK to describe someone who is incompetent or gormless.
So I have to agree that this is a highly inappropriate and disrespectful title to use for a study day covering what is a very sensitive medical subject.
Using the term MUPPET clearly implies to the patient community that these sort of symptoms are being trivialised and even laughed at by the medical profession.
I hope you will accept that a serious error of judgement has been made here and that an apology is therefore called for.
Soon after, the following statement appeared on the club's website:
“The South West Paediatric Club is extremely sorry for the offence caused by the original title we gave our conference on medically unexplained conditions today.
“This was wholly unintentional and something we very much regret. As an organisation deeply passionate about improving paediatric care, we wish to make it absolutely clear that this was in no way our description or view of the children we are proud to care for, nor our view of the complex and serious subject of medically unexplained symptoms which we have gathered together today to discuss.
“The reference in the title was aimed light-heartedly at ourselves as doctors and the challenges we often face trying to successfully treat medically unexplained conditions. It was certainly not a reference to our patients. We realise that our original title was an error of judgement for which the club takes full responsibility and we have removed all reference to it in today's proceedings and it is being removed from our website.
“The conference being held today is being attended by more than 100 paediatricians from across the `South West and beyond and our sole aim is to learn more about this challenging area and share best practice. We are dedicated to improving the health, wellbeing and lives of our patients and we will continue to work tirelessly to improve the standard of paediatric care for children across the South West and further afeild.”