The deadline for the Summer issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter will soon be here and we're already collecting articles and letters from our members, friends, supporters and interested readers.
The HealthWatch Newsletter in pdf format is openly accessible online immediately on publication so that our contributors can benefit from as wide an audience as possible, and may share their work freely.
For our Summer issue we are looking for topical and thought-provoking material from new contributors. Opinions, book reviews, letters commenting on current issues of interest are also welcomed for consideration.
Please send your articles by 1st July for target publication date around August. For more information and details of how to submit please see our Information for Authors page.
A letter to The Times signed by 15 HealthWatch experts and supporters sparked a deluge of media coverage when it urged women offered catch-up after missed breast screening invitations to “look this gift horse in the mouth”.
HealthWatch chair, Susan Bewley, professor of women’s health at King’s College London, penned the letter on learning the news that an estimated 450,000 women aged 68-70 had not been invited to routine NHS mammography screenings because of an IT failure dating back to 2009. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, had claimed that between 135 and 270 women might have had their lives shortened as a result.
These figures, based on statistical modelling, were disputed by many in the medical and statistical community, and Bewley’s letter quickly gathered signatories from among HealthWatch supporters including Michael Baum, who as professor emeritus of surgery at University College London was an architect of the original breast screening programme in the 1980s.
"Breast cancer screening mostly causes more unintended harm than good"
The letter, headed “Screening ‘flaw’”, appeared on Saturday 5th May and was accompanied by a page 9 article by Chris Smyth, The Times’ Health Editor, titled “Women are urged to avoid catch-up breast screening”. It quoted from Bewley’s letter, “The breast screening programme mostly causes more unintended harm than good, which is slowly being recognised internationally. Many women and doctors now avoid breast screening because it has no impact on all-cause death”.
Here is a list of just some of the media coverage that resulted:
- BBC News (5th May): “Breast cancer screening programme 'does more harm than good'” quoted from the letter, saying “The claims of lives saved because of breast screening are counteracted by deaths resulting from interventions, the medics said. And the most dangerous and advanced cancers are not prevented by screening programmes”.
- BBC Radio 4 News programme (5th May, 6:00am, 6:25mins in, and again at 13:00) reported the Times letter and the disadvantages of breast screening.
- Dr Margaret McCartney, HealthWatch patron and our 2008 HealthWatch Award winner, joined Susan Bewley and broadcaster Nick Ross, HealthWatch’s president, in a further letter published in the Guardian, 7th May: “Impact of mass breast cancer screening has been overrated” which called on Public Health England to “publish its modelled estimates so scientists and statisticians can check them. In the absence of good evidence it was disgraceful to suggest women died needlessly.”
- Margaret McCartney wrote in the BMJ on 14th May (BMJ 2018;361:k2055) “Can we now talk openly about the risks of screening?” criticising the government’s plan to extend the screening age range in a massive clinical trial without participants’ consent.
Other publications home and abroad took apart the Department of Health’s wobbly maths.
- Tim Harford, our 2012 HealthWatch award winner, covered the issue in his BBC Radio programme “More or Less” (4th May), interviewing Karsten Jorgensen about screening research that shows doubtful benefits, and later wrote in the Financial Times (11th May): “Breast cancer scare recalls the value of collecting evidence” of the “widespread indifference of a howling media to the evidence that such screening is of doubtful benefit anyway”.
- David Spiegelhalter, statistician of the Winton Centre in Cambridge, wrote (2nd May): “Have ‘up to 270 women died’ by missing a breast screening appointment letter?” concluding, that 800 may have avoided harm by not being screened.
- The Guardian (4th May): “Breast cancer screening scandal must prompt review of mammograms” by GP Kailash Chand.
- Nigel Hawkes in the BMJ, 8th May (2018;361:k2036): Breast cancer screening error: fatal mistake or lucky escape?
- Lown Institute: “Slow progress in reducing breast cancer overscreening”
- HealthNewsReview.org (7th May): “Despite screaming headlines, England’s breast cancer screening computer glitch didn’t kill anyone”
- And the ability of the NHS to cope with the demand for catch-up screening was called into question when the Society of Radiographers announced on 14th May “Breast screening workforce will not be able to cope with backlog following crisis, unless urgenly reinforced”.
- And finally … Private Eye, in its “Medicine Balls” column this week, noted that while medical negligence lawyers are licking their lips, it will be nearly impossible for anyone to prove a life had been shortened. On the contrary, “By opting out of screening, a women will lower her risk of being labelled and treated for early breast cancer with no benefit to her quality of life or life expectancy.”
HealthWatch has been raising concerns about breast cancer screening and its shaky evidence base since 2001, and continues to work to raise awareness of the risks and promote correct information to doctors and the public to enable informed choice.
The Spring 2018 issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter is now online here!
The HealthWatch Newsletter is free to read and download. HealthWatch members will shortly receive their personal printed copy of the newsletter if they have opted to do so.
Featured in this issue:
- NEWS FEATURE There are seven worldwide, fundamental problems with all electronic patient records - and one solution
- NEWS Roger Fisken calculates that the “liquid biopsy” fails the cancer screening test
- HEALTHWATCH AWARDWINNER Deborah Cohen’s no-holds-barred presentation on the dark side of health reporting
- ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES Loretta Marron charts the rise and rise of traditional Chinese medicine
- STUDENTS The winners of the sixteenth annual HealthWatch Student Prize
- POEM The Quack Doctor, a reflection by Caroline Richmond
- LAST WORD "The erotic tendencies of Trappist monks"
Join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in healthcare.
Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are consulting on proposals for homeopathy for a second time.
We reported on their first consultation last year. This overlapped with a consultation by NHS England and we understand some homeopaths had complained to the CCGs about the way their consultation had been run. This second consultation should finally decide the fate of homeopathy in the area.
After the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital closed in January 2013, homeopathy continued to be provided by a small clinic at the South Bristol Community Hospital. Just three years later, in October 2015, this too closed to be replaced by a private clinic, the Portland Centre for Integrative Medicine. That is not part of the NHS but is contracted by the CCGs to provide homeopathy services.
At the end of November 2017, NHS England announced recommendations that GPs should no longer prescribe homeopathic treatments or herbal remedies.
The aim of their proposal is to review the commissioning of homeopathy services and treatments and includes three options.
- The homeopathy service should continue under the current policy where funding is granted if the patient meets the published criteria
- The current policy should be amended to reduce access either by reducing the number of appointments routinely funded or by restricting the access criteria so the fewer patients will qualify for treatment
- NHS funded homeopathy is only available in rare and exceptional circumstances and would need to be approved by the Individual Funding Request Panel (IFR)
The consultation closes on Sunday 15 April 2018 so plenty of time to submit your response online. This is little more than indicating how strongly you agree or disagree with each of the three proposed options, but you have the opportunity to provide further information if you so wish.
We encourage members to take a minute to submit their response.
The 2018 HealthWatch student prize competition for critical appraisal of clinical research protocols is now open.
There are two first prizes of £500 each, one for medical and dental students and one for students of nursing, midwifery and professions allied to medicine. Up to five runner-up prizes of £100 will be awarded in each class. Prize winners will be invited to attend the HealthWatch Annual General Meeting in October to receive their prizes.
The competition consists of four hypothetical research protocols: your task is to rank the protocols in order from that most likely to provide a reliable answer to the stated aims of the trial to that least likely to do so. You then have to explain your ranking in no more than 600 words.
Please pass on to any students, organisations, colleges, universities, etc you think might be interested.
Your entry must be submitted before midnight BST on Monday 30 April 2018. Entries received after that time will not be considered.
The terms and conditions can be read here.
Find out more here.
Free student membership
Whether you enter the competition or not, if you are a full-time student, please consider taking advantage of our offer of free Student Membership of HealthWatch.