The British Medical Journal, the respected trade publication for doctors, is facing outrage from its readers over a decision to charge almost £300 for publishing obituaries during a pandemic.
A note on the BMJ’s website says that from this month the BMJ will be charging £299 for each medical obituary that it publishes. There is a discount of only £50 for members of British Medical Association, which owns the magazine and whose members receive copies as a perk.
The decision has been branded especially insensitive at a time when so many doctors are dying of coronavirus. The BMA said it was “very concerned” about the move and planned to raise the issue with the magazine’s management.
An online petition was launched on Monday describing the introduction of a charge for the 600-word obituaries as “disgraceful” and urging the magazine to reconsider.
Dr Toni Hazell, a GP in Tottenham, north London, and one of the BMJ’s 80,000 readers, told the Guardian: “To start this at the moment when doctors are dying of Covid just seems unbelievably crass.”
She came across the charge as she was considering submitting an obituary for her stepfather, Dr David Anton, who died this month from prostate cancer.
Hazell said: “My stepfather was a doctor in the RAF and he was an occupational health physician for the RNLI for much of his life. He did lots of good things and it would just be quite nice to mark his life with an obituary, but that’s a lot of money. I looked up the BMJ publishing group’s revenue, and they are not short of a bob or two.”
She added: “I read the obituaries to pay respect to colleagues who have died. It will be less representative if this charge is made, and of course those who are BMA members have already paid plenty throughout their career.”
Dr Liz Thomas, an intensive care consultant from Manchester, tweeted: “I understand they’re a business, but this just seems so wrong to me.”
Trevor Pickersgill, a neurologist and BMA chief officer, tweeted in response that the news had come as a surprise to him and fellow officers, adding: “Today we are contacting the management of @bmj_latest as this was NOT a decision made by @TheBMA but by @bmj_latest alone.”
Dr John Hughes, from Manchester, predicted protest motions at the BMA’s next annual representatives meeting if BMJ did not rescind the decision. Writing on Twitter, he added: “Particularly insensitive timing, when colleagues continue to lose their lives to Covid.”
A BMA spokesman said: “We are very concerned by the idea that the BMJ would charge for obituaries. They are fully editorially independent, but we are raising our concerns about this with them directly.”
The BMJ’s note on its website said: “Please note, from 1 February 2021 we will be charging for publishing obituaries. The Price is £299, including VAT, and for BMA members £249 pounds, including VAT … By proceeding with publication, you will be agreeing to pay.
“We regret we cannot give individuals progress updates, but after publication you will receive an invoice for the fee you have agreed to pay.”
The BMJ has been approached for comment.
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