The idea behind HealthWatch was first put to journalist and broadcaster Nick Ross in the 1980s by the eminent cancer surgeon Professor Michael Baum. “Michael told me about some tragic cases he’d seen at his breast cancer clinic — women whose condition had disintegrated into suppurating sores because they'd shunned conventional treatment in favour of various alternative therapies that were just not working”.
Nick Ross was among a small group of professionals who met to share Professor Baum’s concern at patients risking their health, not to mention wasting their money, on unproven treatments. HealthWatch was born, with Nick appointed joint president with Michael O'Donnell.
Its inaugural meeting was held on 1 November 1988 at The Old Bell Tavern in Fleet Street, followed by gatherings at the Royal Society of Medicine. Finally a committee was elected towards the end of the first year whose members included the pathologist Professor Vincent Marks, the medical nutritionist Professor John Garrow, lawyers Diana and Malcolm Brahams, and medical journalist Caroline Richmond.
The original name was the Campaign against Health Fraud, but it was changed to HealthWatch at our second AGM, held on 12 July 1990.
While initially concerned with unproven treatments, over the years HealthWatch has widened its area of concern and now promotes evidence and integrity in all forms of medicine and healthcare. Being completely independent, HealthWatch is able to oppose poor evidence whether it is found in alternative remedies, clinical research, pharmaceutical products, government-run programmes, or the media.
Nick Ross continues as HealthWatch’s president. Its patrons are Dr Margaret McCartney, comedian Robin Ince, Professor Steve Jones FRS, Sir Michael Rawlins, Lord Dick Taverne and Dr Sarah Wollaston.
Frequently asked questions
We rely primarily on our members' subscriptions.
We have received generous donations from a number of individuals & charitable trusts.
We are independent of industry and receive no funding from pharmaceutical companies.
Enquiries and further information
For press and other enquiries, please contact us.
Welcome to HealthWatch
HealthWatch is the UK charity that has been promoting science and integrity in healthcare since 1991.
- The assessment and testing of all medical and nutritional treatments, devices and procedures
- Consumer protection in regard to all forms of health care
- The highest standards of evidence-based education for clinical practitioners
- Improving media and public understanding of the importance of applying evidence from robust clinical trials
We are against:
- Misleading advertising of health products
- The sale of unproven remedies to the vulnerable and desperate
- Unethical marketing by pharmaceutical companies
- Misconduct in clinical trials
- Media misinformation on health and nutrition
- Government promotion of health and screening programmes unsupported by evidence
Please note that we are not connected with the NHS organisation "Healthwatch England".
HealthWatch review of the first 30 years' achievements
Over 30 years HealthWatch has:
Recipients include familiar names such as:
- broadcaster and agony aunt Claire Rayner
- BMJ editor Fiona Godlee
- Bad Science author Ben Goldacre
- the BBC’s Deborah Cohen
- cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst
- journalist John Diamond
- epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll.
…and many more.
- The Direction of Medical Research: Top-Down or Bottom-Up?
- Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill
- Sugar and Tax
- Debunking False Health News & Views.
Our speakers have included:
- HRA chair, Sir Michael Rawlins
- geneticist Steve Jones
- cardiologist Aseem Malhotra.
The comedian Robin Ince has hosted a number of our debates.
At the Symposium on Evidence, Healthcare and Medical Devices & Implants, held in 2019, Professor Carl Henegan, of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, collaborated with a team of HealthWatch healthcare professionals to devise better regulation of medical devices.
HealthWatch committee experts have been interviewed on:
…as well as local radio news programmes and by national press and science media.
- Professional Standards Authority (2019)
- UK Universities’ Research Integrity Concordat (2019)
- European Medicines Agency Draft Regulatory Science strategy to 2025 (2019)
- MHRA’s Relationship with the public (2019)
- House of Commons Select Committee “Screening” (2014) — oral evidence was also submitted
- Homeopathic Products (2006).
HealthWatch experts have also appeared as Expert Witnesses for UK Trading Standards in cases involving the marketing of unproven health remedies.
HealthWatch collaborated with the Stop the Saatchi Bill campaign in 2015 to prevent the passing of a Bill that could have exposed patients the harm of untested medicines without ethical protections.
It has supported and exchanged campaigning principles and causes with sister organizations including:
The organisation has published occasional peer-reviewed papers in:
- the British Medical Journal
- the Medico-Legal Journal
- Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies.
…and in addition letters on evidence in healthcare from licensing of medical devices through trading standards to mammographic screening have appeared in mainstream media including The Times and The Telegraph.
HealthWatch committee members maintain a lively social media presence.
It supported a student-led project investigating the teaching of complementary and alternative medicine as part of medical school curricula.
HealthWatch welcomes proposals for funding for further projects.
Since 2002 the objective of the competition is to cultivate evidence-evaluation in future health professionals.