An independent charity for science and integrity in healthcare

Read the latest HealthWatch newsletter:  Issue 108, Autumn 2018

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."

Dr Mark Porter MBE, GP and presenter of BBC Radio 4 flagship medical series “Inside Health”, is to receive the 23rd HealthWatch Annual Award. Mark will be in conversation with HealthWatch president, the journalist and broadcaster Nick Ross, on the subject of “EBM for the people – the importance of spreading the word”, at the 2015 HealthWatch open meeting and Annual General Meeting on 20th October at the Medical Society of London. The meeting will also include presentations of cheques for up to £500 each to the winners in the UK-wide HealthWatch Student Prize competition in which students of medicine and allied professions show their skills in assessing research protocols. Awards will be presented by Nick Ross.
Attendance at the meeting is free and open to all, but the presentation will be followed by an optional buffet dinner with wine at 8.45 p.m. at a cost of £45, apply by clicking here for AGM notice 2015 and submitting completed form as soon as possible to reserve your place. Contact point for dinner reservations is David Bender, HealthWatch Secretary.

What: HealthWatch's annual Open Meeting and Annual General Meeting

Where: The Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, London W1M 0EB (nearest Underground Bond St or Oxford Circus)

When: Tuesday 20th October 2015 
18:30 Reception
19:00 AGM
19:30 Presentation of Student Prize
19:40 Presentation of 23rd annual HealthWatch Award, followed by Mark Porter in conversation with Nick Ross: “EBM for the people – the importance of spreading the word”

All are welcome at the meeting, but only members may vote at the Annual General Meeting.

 

THE SUMMER issue of the HealthWatch Newsletter is in the mail to members. Non-members can now read the highlights online here, including the full-length news feature about recent coverage of Public Health England's controversial Age Extension Trial of breast cancer screening. Also in the news is the shocking story of a brilliant neurologist who has been sued by his own hospital after he turned whistleblower in an effort to improve services for his patients. Read details of your opportunity to take part in ongoing research and get published. 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 these in full, join us by becoming a member of HealthWatch and a supporter of science and integrity in medicine.

Susan Bewley, professor of complex obstetrics at KCL, and HealthWatch Committee member, has written in The Conversation about the dangers of celebrities making pronouncements about getting screened for cancer: Celebrity campaigns are a distraction from the real risks of cancer screening

While they make compelling media stories, this kind of media coverage of screening is often incomplete and misleading.

She writes:

It has helped to create unrealistic expectations of what screening programmes are and what they can deliver. On the one hand, there is a mistaken belief that screening only offers benefits. On the other, there is the myth that screening is only offered to certain age groups due to financial restrictions.

Sense About Science have launched a new free “Making Sense of Screening” guide that explains misconceptions about how screening works, its limitations and possible harms.

We believe women are put in harm’s way as they continue to be deceived about the nature of breast screening, especially whilst staff are not trained nor obliged to discuss and obtain formal, written consent for this unscientific and unethical randomised clinical trial.

Read our letter in the BMJ in full.