‘The Society is at a crossroads’

From Professor Carol McGuinness as Interim Chair of the Board of Trustees.

I’ve been a member of the Society for nearly 50 years. I have found professional enrichment and friendship through my involvement. Now I find myself addressing you as interim Chair of the Board of Trustees in turbulent times, as the organisation goes through a process of significant and much needed transformation while also experiencing vigorous debate on complex and contentious issues.

In February, our Vice President David Murphy chose to resign from the Board of Trustees. Current President Hazel McLaughlin stepped down in April due to a significant health issue in her family. And President Elect Nigel MacLennan will not become President at our next AGM as planned.

Last year, the society received grievances against Professor MacLennan, from several individuals. Following two independent, external investigations, which together upheld allegations of persistent bullying, a member conduct process was initiated. This process was led by some of our most senior, experienced members, including the Chair of our Ethics Committee, and was independent of the Board of Trustees. The final decision was that expulsion from the society was the only option.

Everyone in the society has to observe our member conduct rules, regardless of the position they hold. In the case of the President Elect, we felt it was a very serious matter to do something that might result in the removal of the membership of an official elected by the society’s membership. We made strenuous informal and formal efforts to try to resolve the situation without success. It was with a heavy heart that we had to announce this decision, but the trustees have a duty to protect everyone in the society. Everyone should be able to function without feeling bullied.

In recent years, several working groups have considered very sensitive topics which have gone through an expert and democratic process.

Our guidelines for psychologists working with gender, sexuality and relationship diversity are not, in our view, at all contentious. They require our members not to discriminate against individuals and to treat them with respect. This includes the use of appropriate, inclusive language, which all patients and clients should be able to expect. The guidelines relate to adults and young people and not to the treatment of children, and professionals understand the difference. Our guidance does not contain any reference to the prescribing of puberty blockers for children under the age of 16.

There is general debate across the health sector on the extension of limited prescribing rights for different professions, something that has brought benefits to patients through, for example, the work of nurse prescribers. There are strong views among our members about whether some psychologists should be granted prescribing rights, with vigorous positions presented by those both for and against this potential change. Our research to date on prescribing rights, following a two-year consultation process – that it could be useful in certain settings – is simply a contribution to the debate. The society does not have a fixed position, we have repeatedly stated that we will continue to listen to and engage with our members, and ultimately we do not have the power to decide on this issue – it is a process governed by Parliament following extensive public consultation.

A crossroads
The society is at a crossroads. We have been through a very turbulent year, when we were dealing with Covid-19. The situation with the President Elect has brought added and unwelcome pressure to the trustees and staff. As a board of trustees we have been open about the need for improvements across the society which is why we committed a significant amount of money to our ongoing three-year transformation programme. The BPS is not perfect, and there is always room for improvement in any organisation.

It is clear to us that stronger governance processes will be required in the future, and this work is well underway. We have kept the Charity Commission fully informed of developments throughout and continue to engage with them.

We have much work to do. The world in which we operate is changing and we must adapt too. That does not mean that everything has to change. We have to listen to the voices of all members and our policies must reflect different professional standpoints. Of course, we must be sensitive to one another’s views. If we get things wrong, we should say so. But we should also accept decisions made through proper processes – we cannot endlessly resist every decision we disagree with.

I am clear that as a society we must be more transparent in the way we work, and that is something we are addressing. There are always lessons for the society to learn and always more that we can do to improve.

I want to ask you, as a member, for your help.

Firstly, when we debate contentious issues together, let’s do so with courtesy and respect.

Secondly, please give the trustees and the staff of the society your support. We all work hard in the best interests of the society, and we can’t achieve change without feeling your support, even when you don’t agree with everything we decide.

Thirdly, consider standing for elected roles in the society. We need a wider pool of candidates as trustees and elected officials. The more people who get involved, the better our decision making will be. We’re planning changes that will make the society work better for you. But we have a choice as members. To sit back and watch events from a distance. Or to get involved and show our active support. Please take part in professional groups. Please vote in elections.  

We will, with your help, emerge from Covid-19 a more vibrant and vigorous society than ever before. We will be an ever more diverse society, with room for all perspectives. We will, above all, be characterised by the courteous and professional way we interact with each other.

Professor Carol McGuinness
Interim Chair of the Board of Trustees

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The public shaming, career destroying communications on this matter, above (and on Youtube even), prior to the accused even being able to lodge his appeal as was his right, absolutely shames the BPS. This is the nadir of the BPS with evidence of poor governance, financial irregularities, spin and secrecy emerging in press coverage in the Times, the Telegraph and Third Sector. Psychologists deserve so much better. Check our Twitter feed @psychsocwatchuk and our blog, BPSWatch.com


We have to welcome the fact that the BPS is – finally – beginning to discuss the turbulent events at the heart of its governance. But this statement is close to misleading by omission.

It briefly mentions the resignation of David Murphy as Vice President, but suggests that he “chose to resign”, and says nothing more. Whereas David himself has spoken (in his resignation letter) of a culture of secrecy, of financial mismanagement, of a failure of governance and of vicious disagreements within the governing body of the Society.

It speaks of ‘sensitive’ consultations, mentions a relatively uncontentious issue, and then speaks of the consultation on prescribing rights (and takes the trouble to reiterate one side of an issue that clearly does not command unanimity), but does not mention the fact that the Society’s working party on this issue compiled its report before the consultation had ended.

The statement mentions the BPS’s ‘turbulent year’, but does not mention the findings of a review into financial mismanagement that the former President reports he commissioned, does not mention spiralling costs and significant financial deficits, does not mention the suspension of the Chief Executive and the departure of the Finance Director, does not mention a criminal case that (it is widely reported) involves fraud within the BPS headquarters, and does not speak to the resignation from the Board of Trustees of... well, to be honest, I have lost count.

In contrast, it goes into significant detail over the expulsion of President Elect Nigel MacLennan a fact that, in itself, raises eyebrows, given that Nigel has described himself as a ‘whistle-blower, but says nothing about the serious issues he drew to the Society’s attention.

The statement calls on Members to engage positively with a process of change... and says nothing about what those changes may involve. Once again, it’s a black box, a “trust us” response.

Like Professor McGuinness, I have given a fair proportion of my professional life to the British Psychological Society. And, despite the way that I was treated by my fellow Trustees, I cannot take any pleasure in the Society’s current difficulties. I, too, would encourage colleagues actively to participate, and to improve – even save – the Society. But the Society, and its leading officials, must also be part of that process of change.

The Society needs to be open and transparent – not only about those decisions that they wish to defend, but about the (frankly much more important) issues that have come to light. Detailed statements about the actions of one individual are largely irrelevant, especially if major issues of governance and mismanagement are ignored. The British Psychological Society is a Member organisation. Members need to be informed and engaged in all areas of the Society’s functioning – difficult as well as easy.

So... prove that you’re changing. Demonstrate that the culture of secrecy and denial is over. Demonstrate that you are prepared to be open and transparent about all the issues that are troubling the Society, not only the alleged misbehaviour of one individual.

As more evidence emerges, I am heartened that I am not the only Member to have experienced the lack of professional integrity at the hands of those in power at the BPS who ought to know better.  Why is this, in my view, mealy-mouthed cover-up attempt enhancing seeming slander and libel still appearing on this platform?

Professor MacLennan, whom I know personally to be honest and certainly not a bully, was repeatedly asking online for information to which he as a Trustee was entitled, but was being denied.  That is not bullying in my book, but determinedly seeking to establish uncomfortable facts in order to reform the Society - as we, the Members had voted him to be President this year to do - and avoid the now inevitable exposure of seeming fraud on a grand scale and wrongdoing at high levels in the Society.  I am amazed that this seemingly defamatory, odious material is still available for public view.