Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Tabloid Health Care

There is a class of drugs that is being prescribed to healthy people.  If GPs don't meet quotas, they lose money.

Here's what I understand about robust research into this class of drugs - statins:

They don't work for women.

They don't work for men over 65.

They may trigger diabetes and exacerbate blood sugar control problems.

They don't prevent heart attacks.

They don't prolong life by one day.

Men under 65, who have had a heart attack or stroke, may benefit from taking them.

Side effects may include mental health problems as well as joint and muscle pain and deterioration.

In effect, these drugs prescribed to healthy people may make them ill.

The UK is a free country.  People can choose what to accept or refuse from their doctors.  There is a lot of information on the internet to help patients decide.

I meet a lot of people on this class of drugs, who are elderly, have limited education, may not be internet savvy or often online.

Some bloggers (doctors, researchers or highly informed people in this field) may not understand how their posts are read.   An attempt to provide balance and present the opposing view, may be seen as support for the pro-statin lobby.  It's a pity if they only target those who are already converts and actively involved in their own healthcare.

The most influential part of this scene is often Dr Tabloid.  Man in white coat is quoted giving dire warnings of negative consequences on health and heart attack risk to those who refuse to take statins.  No attempt is made to discover any conflicts of interest he may have (in the form of direct/indirect funding from statin manufacturers.)

Rory Collins was quoted in this way last week.  Much was made of his title and that he works at Oxford University as a medical researcher.  Nothing was said about his work as an epidemiologist.  That means that he looks at statistics and trends in disease at the level of population.  He does not do research on statins, their side effects and prevention of heart disease.  I wouldn't know that from the coverage in newspapers and BBC news.

As Dr Briffa notes, Rory Collins won't let us see the data on which his firm assurances are based.  So where's the scientific proof for this assertion?

His words strike fear into the hearts and minds of people who don't know what to think, given the contradictory messages they receive from the media.  When their doctor suggests carrying on until they note any side effects, nothing is said about the beneficial effects of the drug, apart from 'lowering cholesterol' or 'preventing a stroke, because you have diabetes, madam.'

When I searched for the above image, it took several tries, whereas the headlines claiming that statins cure Alzheimers, cancer and prolong your life were easily accessible.

Science journalism is very poor in this country.  Sadly this may contribute to severe side effects from mis-prescribed drugs.

I find it distressing to see people I care about losing mobility and joy of life.   The common factor is statins and they seem too scared to refuse these drugs from the doctor.

We need better investigative journalism when governments ignore science and publish guidelines on prescribing such as these.

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