An independent charity for science and integrity in healthcare

Read the latest HealthWatch newsletter:  Issue 106, Autumn 2017

Journalists often ask Peter Gøtzsche why he’s always looking for controversy. “I tell them, I'm not. It comes looking for me,” he replies. The Danish physician, medical researcher and leader of the Nordic Cochrane Centre received the 2016 HealthWatch Award at the charity's 28th Annual General Meeting with a compelling presentation titled: ‘Is it controversial to tell the truth about health care?’

“If I see something that seems to me wrong, I dig very deep to find the truth. I expose skeletons and sometimes the people who buried them can get very angry,” he said. This fearlessly outspoken defender of integrity in medicine went on to talk of biased trials, regulatory processes compromised by conflicts of interest, dangers of psychiatric drugs, and the folly of government investment in health checks and screening tests that simply don't work. A report of his talk will appear in the Winter issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter.

GoetzscheRossPrize2Here, Peter Gøtzsche (left) receives his award from HealthWatch's President - the journalist, author and broadcaster Nick Ross (right) (Photo: Mandy Payne)

The HealthWatch Award is presented annually to an individual who has made significant steps either in medical research or in improving the public’s understanding of health issues by clarifying complicated and often misunderstood medical matters for the general public. Peter Gøtzsche qualifies on both counts - through his painstaking meta-analyses of drug data and also for his very readable books including Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy and Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma has Corrupted Healthcare.

He became the award's 24th recipient at the 2016 Annual General Meeting of HealthWatch on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Medical Society of London.

Media enquiries: please contact our press office using the media contact form which is monitored continually.

Note to Editors: HealthWatch, a registered charity established in 1991, promotes science and integrity in medicine: the assessment and testing of all medical and nutritional treatments, products and procedures; consumer protection in regard to all forms of health care; the highest standards of education and evidence-based health care by practitioners; better understanding by the public and the media of the importance of application of evidence from robust clinical trials. Further information from www.healthwatch-uk.org (n.b. HealthWatch has no connection with the organisation “Healthwatch England”).

We are honoured to host a short celebration of the life of John Garrow in London on Thursday 20th October. An eminent medical nutritionist with a passion for evidence, Professor Garrow was a founding member of the charity HealthWatch which promotes science and integrity in medicine. He was several-times chairman of HealthWatch and a man who fought for evidence with passion and style.

Following his death in June this year, his family have kindly agreed to hold this memorial toast before the HealthWatch Annual General Meeting. His friends and colleagues from all spheres of his life (not just HealthWatch) are warmly invited to attend.

Please join us with the Garrow family to toast the life of John Garrow at 5:30pm on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, London W1G 9EB (nearest Underground stations are Bond St or Oxford Circus). To help us with preparations, please confirm your attendance by registering here.

There is no compulsion to remain for the 28th Annual General Meeting of HealthWatch which begins shortly afterwards, although you are most welcome if you wish to do so. The evening will include presentation of awards to winners of the HealthWatch Student Competition, of which John Garrow was a generous supporter, and to the fearlessly outspoken Cochrane scientist Dr Peter Gøtzsche, a choice of whom he would surely have approved. There is more information about the AGM and other HealthWatch events planned for the day here.

There is never enough time at the HealthWatch Annual General Meeting for members to discuss what they want to achieve, and how they can help to forward our aims. So this time we’ve arranged a proper workshop, which we’ve named “Whither HealthWatch?” to take place on the afternoon of the HealthWatch AGM. Aim? To review the aims and activities of HealthWatch, and help to generate a new vision for our charity’s future.

The programme will start with brief introductions to five areas of activity and what HealthWatch can do: to debunk myths; for student outreach; to influence public policy; to go forward with our publications; to influence clinical practice. We will then break up into separate groups to discuss these areas of activity, and after tea each group will report back to the meeting as a whole, followed by discussion of what should be our priorities.

“Whither HealthWatch?” will run from at 2:30pm until 5:00pm on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, London W1G 9EB (nearest Underground stations are Bond St or Oxford Circus). Members, friends and supporters of HealthWatch may take part. Places are limited, apply for yours here.

All are most welcome to remain for the 28th Annual General Meeting of HealthWatch which begins shortly afterwards. More information about the other HealthWatch events planned for the day can be found here.

Peter Gøtzsche needs no introduction to those who share the aims of HealthWatch. The Danish physician, medical researcher and leader of the Nordic Cochrane Centre will receive the 2016 HealthWatch Award at the 28th HealthWatch Annual General Meeting.

Gøtzsche, who helped found the Cochrane Collaboration for independent, quality evidence in medicine, is a fearlessly outspoken defender of integrity in medicine. 

He has controversially and powerfully argued that there is no justification for the use of mammography to screen for breast cancer. His many publications include his 2012 book Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy and, the following year, Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma has Corrupted Healthcare - a searing exposé of industry bias in clinical trials. He has revealed data errors in meta-analyses, harms in psychiatric drugs, questioned the editorial independence of medical journals, and highlighted medical ghostwriting as scientific misconduct. His research includes the finding that placebo has surprisingly little effect.

The 28th Annual General meeting of HealthWatch will be held on Thursday 20th October 2016 at the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, London W1G 9EB (nearest Underground stations are Bond St or Oxford Circus). As usual, the meeting is free and open to all, although only members may vote. There is more information about this and other HealthWatch events planned for AGM day here.

 

The highlights of the Summer 2016 issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter are now online! In this issue:

  • Dr Roger Fisken alerted the MHRA to a device making impossible medical claims. But is his complaint being investigated or ignored? His case raises questions about lack of transparency of the work of this public body (full text)
  • John Illman, winner of a 2016 Medical Journalists’ Association award, explains why anecdotes in the media are so much more powerful than statistics (intro only)
  • A tribute to the recently-late John Garrow, professor of human nutrition, leading obesity expert, and a passionate campaigner for evidence (full text)
    Can foods really boost the immune system? David Bender examines the claims and finds some truths, and some whoppers! (intro only)
  • News of the 2016 HealthWatch Debate which addressed the motion: “This house believes sugar is harmful so all sugary foods should be taxed, not just soft drinks” (intro only)
  • The secrets of complementary and alternative are revealed—by magician Richard Rawlins; and the memoirs of Beulah Bewley, an inspirational woman who qualified as a doctor in the 1950’s and went on to become a Dame of the British Empire for services to women doctors (intro only)
  • Medical journalist and author Caroline Richmond celebrates the continuing fall in homeopathy prescriptions (intro only)

The full text, published version of the HealthWatch Newsletter with all of these articles is available to HealthWatch members only. Join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in medicine. Non-members can read the highlights of this latest newsletter including two open access features, here. All HealthWatch newsletter content becomes fully open access 12 months after original publication.

Media enquiries: please contact our PRESS OFFICE using the media contact form or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Note to Editors:
HealthWatch, a registered charity established in 1991, promotes science and integrity in medicine: the assessment and testing of all medical and nutritional treatments, products and procedures; consumer protection in regard to all forms of health care; the highest standards of education and evidence-based health care by practitioners; better understanding by the public and the media of the importance of application of evidence from robust clinical trials. Further information from: www.healthwatch-uk.org (n.b. HealthWatch has no connection with the organisation “Healthwatch England”).

In the latest issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter, we find out why the government's targets for reducing stillbirths are likely to fail, we learn what it was about the 1990s that made CAM so popular, and we are appalled at the possibilities for promoting misinformation in the scientific literature. And if you thought you knew about why spinach is so good for you, think again ...

The full text of the HealthWatch Newsletter with all of these articles is available to HealthWatch members only. Join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in medicine. Non-members can read the highlights of this latest newsletter online here and one open access feature "The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit" by Brian Earp, here. All HealthWatch newsletters become fully open access 12 months after original publication.

This year’s HealthWatch debate has seized another hot topic and some brilliant speakers.

This year we’re delighted to welcome back our patron the evidence-based comedian Robin Ince as chairman while our four distinguished experts debate the motion “This house believes sugar is harmful so all sugary foods should be taxed, not just soft drinks”. Audience members will be asked to vote on the proposition both before and after the debate.

Panel members:

-          Dr Aseem Malhotra, Honorary Consultant Cardiologist, Lister Hospital Stevenage, and Advisor to the National Obesity Forum

-          Professor Richard Tiffin, Professor of Applied Economics, University of Reading

-          David A Bender, Emeritus Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry, University College London

-          Dr Carwyn Rhys Hooper, Institute of Medical and Biomedical Education, St George's, University of London

Attendance is free. To guarantee your place register here.

When: Monday, 23 May 2016 from 18:30 to 20:30 (BST)

Where: King's College Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery - Waterloo Campus Frankin-Wilkins Building, 150 Stamford Street, SE1 9NH - View Map

The 2016 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 5 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.

Find out more here.

Entries must be received by 30 June 2016.

In Uruguay working women aged 50-69* are compelled by law to undergo mammography screening for breast cancer every 2 years.
Without it they can’t get a health card that gives them many of their basic human rights – to work, hold a driver’s licence, study at university, and even to join a gym. As far as we know, it’s the only country in the world where this type of screening test is mandatory. Find out more in this recent article in Scientific American and in the BMJ, here.
Screening for breast cancer has questionable benefits and considerable harms. HealthWatch believes it is unethical to impose screening without the woman’s informed consent. A petition calling for an end to mandatory screening is available (to translate the Spanish text to English use Google Chrome browser and right click on the text).
*the age range has changed in recent weeks, previously 40-59.

Dr Mark Porter jostles for space with Nick Ross, Michael Baum, Edzard Ernst, and Leonore Tiefer's shocking report on a new sex drug, in this winter’s issue of the HealthWatch newletter, out now.

Mark Porter of BBC Radio 4’s “Inside Health” is on the front page talking about the hazards of guidelines in clinical practice. “The evidence we’re looking at is not always pertinent to the people we’re treating,” he says. “External pressures mean that guidelines get rigidly applied. They become tramlines. And I think that’s a problem.” Mark Porter was speaking on accepting the 23rd annual HealthWatch Award at the HealthWatch Annual General Meeting, 20 October 2015 at the Medical Society of London.

On the subject of sex, the hunt for the “pink Viagra” resulted last year in the US FDA’s approval of flibanserin (“AddyiTM”), a drug with very limited benefits for women and considerable drawbacks. How did this happen? Our guest feature from Professor Leonore Tiefer, award-winning US clinical psychologist, tells how the little pink pill went from feminist issue to billionaire-maker to damp squib in a matter of weeks. Journalist and broadcaster Nick Ross celebrates the career of Edzard Ernst, joint winner of this year’s John Maddox prize for standing up for science. Celebrated breast cancer surgeon Michael Baum reports with enthusiasm on his meeting with a like-minded group in the Netherlands recently; news and pictures of our latest student prize-winners; and a run-down of HealthWatch’s achievements during the past year is on page 3.

The full text of the HealthWatch Newsletter with all of these articles is available to HealthWatch members only. Join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in medicine. Non-members can read the highlights of this latest newsletter online here. All HealthWatch newsletters become fully open access 12 months after original publication.

Bewley BMJ award 2015Susan Bewley was bowled over last week to receive the 4th BMJ editors’ award for her persistence and courage in ‘Speaking Truth to Power’. The surprise presentation was made while she was attending as a guest at the Friends of the British Medical Journal Christmas party.

Susan, professor of complex obstetrics at Kings College London, and a member of the HealthWatch committee, has been writing in the BMJ for 40 years. She began with challenging non-consensual vaginal examinations on anaesthetised women, and more recently has written on the subjects of female genital mutilation (FGM), the age-extension trial of breast screening, and conflicts of interest in medicine.

On receiving the award she expressed her gratitude to friends and colleagues. “In my more despondent moments the award will remind me I am not alone or mad, but that I must stay positive and endeavour to rant less and write more. I couldn’t do this without my support network. I may not have told you just how much your support has made a difference to me (or at least not thanked you often enough), but I am very grateful.”

Prof David Colquhoun

David Colquhoun medal 116th December 2015 was a winning date for another HealthWatch hero. David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, was presented with the Wellcome Gold Medal. The medal is awarded every two years by the British Pharmacological Society to recognize outstanding and sustained contributions to pharmacology, based mainly on research achievements.

Prof Colquhoun was previously the winner of the HealthWatch Award in 2010, for his determined exposure of improbable science via his website.

Which is worse - fat or sugar? Nutrition expert David Bender considered the question in a feature in the HealthWatch Newsletter one year ago, and the question continues to be debated in the media. You can new read Dr Bender's full article free, in last autumn's HealthWatch Newsletter which is now available to access online.

All HealthWatch Newsletters become fully open access 12 months after first publication. They include high quality, full length features by experts in medicine, healthcare and the media, and are of interest to everyone who believes health claims should be backed by good, scientific evidence. One year on, many articles are as relevant as when they were first published.

Also in the October 2014 issue, leading breast cancer surgeon Michael Baum reports on giving evidence at the House of Commons inquiry into screening; medical journalist and author John Illman describes the five-step approach to reporting clinical trials; Professor Edzard Ernst explains why the statistics don't stack up where alternative medicine is concerned; and ophthalmic registrar Gwyn Samuel Williams explains why he considered getting a flak jacket after his blog went to press.

If you want to read each issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter hot off the presses, though, you'll need to become a member - find out more here.

Fighting infections with a cup of tea hardly sounds evidence-based, but here at HealthWatch we were interested to learn that our friends at Antibiotic Research UK (ANTRUK), a charity founded in 2014 to develop new antibiotic therapies to fight superbugs, are doing just that. Their Great British Tea Parties will be held all over the UK in the afternoon of Wednesday 18th November, European Antibiotic Awareness Day.

The event will raise funds for their research programme and generate awareness of the worldwide phenomenon of antibiotic resistance and its implications for humanity. ANTRUK hope it will become an annual event. Superbugs are a growing problem in hospitals and the community as bacteria become more and more resistant to our existing antibiotics. In future, medical procedures currently taken for granted, for example cancer treatment, open heart surgery, hip and knee replacement and organ transplantation will become much more perilous if new effective antibiotics are not available. But many big pharmaceutical companies have withdrawn from antibiotic development.

The charity hopes to raise £250,000 to fund their first research programme to tackle superbugs. With some of the UK’s top antibiotic resistance researchers and scientists on board, they aim to develop their first new antibiotic therapy by the early 2020s.

Find out more, or to host your own tea party for ANTRUK, go to www.antibioticresearch.org.uk

The winners of the 2015 John Maddox Prize for standing up for science are Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor at Peninsula Medical School, and Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford.

Professor Ernst is already a winner with HealthWatch - he scooped our Annual HealthWatch Award in 2005 for his honest appraisal of complementary and alternative medicine.

Since 2012, the Maddox Prize has recognised the work of individuals who promote sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest, facing difficulty or hostility in doing so. The prize is a joint initiative of Nature (where Sir John was editor for 22 years) the Kohn Foundation, and Sense About Science. Sir John Maddox was a passionate and tireless champion and defender of science, engaging with difficult debates and inspiring others to do the same.

Awarding the prizes Sir Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of Nature, said: "In Susan Jebb and Edzard Ernst, we have two individuals who have used their scientific insights as a basis for principled positions about sugar and complementary medicine, respectively. Both of them have felt the intense heat of influential opposition and have stood by their views, at who-knows-what cost to themselves."

The John Maddox prizes were presented on 3rd November 2015 at a packed reception at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in London. Many HealthWatch members and trustees were present, including Nick Ross, and were joined by other past winners of our own award: Iain Chalmers, David Colquhoun, Simon Singh, and Peter Wilmshurst.

You can read more about this year's John Maddox prize and its worthy winners here.

THE AUTUMN 2015 issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter should be dropping onto members' doorsteps any moment now!

Non-members can now read the highlights of this latest newsletter online here. Sofia Hart's news report on HealthWatch's participation in September's Skeptics Congress appears in full, along with news on the latest incarnation of Lord Saatchi's Medical Innovation Bill. As always you can also read teaser intros of our latest articles, which are enjoyed by our subscribing members.

If you'd like to read the latest HealthWatch Newsletter in full, join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in medicine.

All HealthWatch newsletters become fully open access 12 months after original publication.

Congratulations to Andrew Fulton, student of dentistry at Barts and the London! He is to receive first prize and a cheque for £500 as a winner in the UK-wide HealthWatch Student Prize competition in which students are invited to show their skills in assessing research protocols. Runners up Wong Li Chin and Vivek Vijay, who are both medical students at University College London, will each receive £100.

The three London students will receive their prizes from journalist and broadcaster Nick Ross at an awards ceremony held at The Medical Society of London on Tuesday 20th October. The presentation of the student awards will form part of an evening programme in which Dr Mark Porter MBE, GP and presenter of BBC Radio 4 flagship medical series “Inside Health”, will also receive an award for his media work which spans 23 years – as long, in fact, as the charity HealthWatch has been in existence.

Open annually to nursing and medical students from across the UK, the HealthWatch Student Prize is part of HealthWatch’s campaign to create awareness amongst healthcare providers, the general public and the media that well-designed clinical trials are the best way of producing effective treatments.

The competition, which is generously sponsored by Cambridge University Press, requires entrants to read and critique plans for four hypothetical clinical trials. This year the research topics included ideas for experiments testing Omega 3 supplement for children’s reading skills, and bee venom for rheumatoid arthritis.
The prize-winning entries critically appraised the quality of the protocols, providing reasons why the results would or would not stand up in the scientific community.

HealthWatch committee member and organiser of the competition Walli Bounds, herself a clinical research scientist at University College London, said, "It is essential that our future doctors and nurses are taught the key features of well-designed clinical trials, so they can distinguish between valid research findings and poor-quality or misleading results. This competition aims to encourage students to test their knowledge about what proper scientific testing entails, and thus lead to better patient care."

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