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Do the doctors know best? Join the Sussex Salon debate

Stethoscope and computer keyboard

Have you ever gone online to check out your cold symptoms only to come away thinking you had a life-threatening disease?

Are doctors ever right to keep patients and relatives ignorant of medical knowledge? Who is the expert on their own condition: patient or doctor? Can the man in the street ever fully understand medical science? Or could they help change the medical profession for the better?

These issues and more will be examined in the first of a series of public debates that mark a new collaboration between the University of Sussex and Brighton Dome.

The Sussex Salon Series of round-table discussions offer an alternative evening out and will include views from academics and other experts as well as the audience, who will have a chance to ask questions or register their views using an electronic voting system.

The aim is to highlight research at the University that engages with contemporary issues in a way that will appeal to a wide audience.

The practice of debating intellectual matters in public places such as coffee shops was a part of everyday life in 18th-century Europe. Such events were were known as "salons", hence the title of this university series.

The first salon event - 'The Expert Patient: is lay knowledge and self-diagnosis actually good for our health or medical science?' - takes place on Wednesday 6 October at 8pm. Panelists are:

  • Writer, consultant and mindfulness coach Ed Halliwell, who writes for the Guardian newspaper on health, well-being and religious issues;
  • Sally Smith QC, a barrister who specializes in medical law and who has acted in numerous high-profile cases;
  • University of Sussex Professor of Sociology Gillian Bendelow, whose research covers areas including chronic illness, pain and 'contested' conditions; health promotion and lay concepts of health and illness;
  • University of Sussex Senior lecturer in Law Jo Bridgeman, who whose principal areas of interest are responsibilities to children, legal theory and the care of children and whose work includes research into the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry and its conclusions on the care of child heart patients.
  • University of Sussex Lecturer in Sociology Dr Catherine Will, whose work on the sociology of science and technology, social and healthcare policy includes investigations into clinical trials and over the counter self-medication.

University of Sussex sociologist Dr Ruth Woodfield has organised the salon events, which showcase the combined expertise of academics in the University's School of Law, Politics and Sociology. Dr Woodfield says: "We are delighted to be working with the Dome on this venture. This will provide an exciting opportunity for us all to share expertise and experience in a relaxed environment."

Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Dome and Festival, says: "The Sussex Salon Series forms an exciting new strand of our autumn season, where some of the hottest topics will be debated by expert panelists. This is a great opportunity for our audience to engage and participate in current debates, and we're delighted to be working with the University of Sussex for these events."

The next two salon sessions will be:

  • Wednesday 3 November: How New is the New Politics?, with Caroline Lucas MP, Lib Dem politician Mark Oaten, University of Sussex academics Professor Paul Webb, Professor Tim Bale, Dr Luke Martell and Dr Charlotte Skeet);
  • Wednesday 1st December: 'What difference have civil partnerships made?', where the speakers will be the activist and campaigner Peter Tatchell, the writer, broadcaster and gay rights champion Simon Fanshawe and University of Sussex academics Dr Craig Lind and Dr Ben Fincham.

Notes for Editors


The Sussex Salon Series of roundtable debates take place in the Founders Room in the Brighton Dome, Church Street, Brighton at 8pm on Wednesday 6 October 2010. Tickets are £6 (£4 concession). Price includes a free drink.  You can book tickets online or by calling the Dome box office on 01273 709 709.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Daniëlle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Friday, 1 October 2010