Costly NHS Medical errors
A British girl who suffered severe brain damage due to serious medical errors at birth has been awarded almost £5 million ($7.5 million) in damages. Sophie Clarke, 12, suffers from cerebral palsy, which has left her immobile and needing to be fed through a tube.
Her family, from Pontyclun, in the south Wales valleys, spoke of their “huge relief” on Tuesday at receiving an award that assures a lifetime of care. The award was agreed at an approval hearing at Cardiff District Registry.
Sophie was the victim of a catalogue of mistakes at Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, before she was born, lawyers acting for the family said. Staff failed to recognise that a CTG Trace showed gross abnormality of her heart rate, which meant she should have been delivered earlier, they said.
Nursing staff failed to intervene and let the birth progress naturally and oxygen starvation caused Sophie’s cerebral palsy.
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board agreed to pay damages after accepting she should have been delivered earlier.
But the health board maintains it did not cause the injuries, which had already occurred by the time she should have been born.
Sophie’s mother, Lynne Clarke, said: “It has been an incredibly hard few years for the family, but to know that our daughter will always be looked after is a huge relief for us all.
“While no amount of money will repair the damage done, we now have a chance to move on with our lives and focus all of our energies on Sophie, ensuring that she gets as much out of life as possible.”
Suzanne Monroe, of Irwin Mitchell, the law firm that represented the family, said: “The brain injuries suffered by Sophie mean that she is entirely immobile, will be wheelchair-dependent for life and has to be fed through a gastrotube.
American healthcare does what the NHS could not do and would not help with
Toddler who was told her windpipe tumour was a cold, is cancer-free after pioneering treatment in U.S.
When toddler Ruby Tanswell first started to struggle for breath in September last year, doctors dismissed her condition as a cold and gave her nose drops and antibiotics. But her mother Adelle Wright was convinced there was a more serious cause and took her to A&E.
Doctors diagnosed her with rhabdomysarcoma – a tumour covering 90 per cent of her windpipe – which affects only 60 people a year in Britain.
After three operations and chemotherapy at Manchester Royal Children’s Hospital the family’s only hope was a treatment only available in the U.S.
They spent months fund-raising to pay for the two-month trip to Florida so that Ruby could have proton therapy – a treatment that destroys diseased tissue using a beam of positive charged particles. Following the treatment, doctors back in the UK were amazed to find Ruby was now completely cancer free.
Mother Adelle, 29, and father Lee Tanswell, 24, plan to celebrate with a huge birthday party at their home in Denton, Greater Manchester. They also treated her to a trip to Disneyland, Paris where she met favourite character Minnie Mouse.
Adelle, who works at Moss Side Health Centre, said: ‘When we got back from America the doctors expected there to still be some tumour there but it was all gone. ‘After the scan the doctors gave us the all clear – we are over the moon. ‘It’s been nearly a year since Ruby was diagnosed but it’s felt like forever. ‘Now it feels like the weight of the world has lifted off our shoulders. Ruby is back to being herself again. ‘We are just trying to get back to normal, every day life but I still can’t believe it’s real.’
The family spent seven weeks at the University of Florida in Jacksonville where Ruby underwent daily sessions of proton therapy.
After being sedated, patients are put into a full body scanner where tiny beams of radiation target the tumour. The treatment is less damaging to healthy tissue than chemotherapy and can be used to treat very small areas.
Mr Tanswell, a self-employed tiler, said: ‘Ruby getting the all-clear is the best news I’ve ever had. ‘Words can’t describe how I feel. As a parent, to go through something like this and come out the other side smiling is amazing. ‘Ruby’s birthday party is going to be a really big celebration.’
The ‘BBC Left’ is using Murdoch hacking to get revenge
Left-wing politicians and broadcasters do not want to debate ideas but they do want to remove their opponents
By Janet Daley (An American-born journalist writing from Britain)
It was a broadcasters’ event some years ago. I had been invited to speak on a favourite subject: the BBC hegemony in broadcast news and the risk that its own package of tendentious assumptions – that Euroscepticism was a lunatic fringe irrelevance, that anyone who expressed concern about immigration was a bigot, etc, etc – was going unchallenged in the mass media. After I had said my piece, a BBC producer in the audience asked whether, since I was so concerned about the dangers of large media organisations, I did not have the same objection to the existence of the “Murdoch empire”.
“No-o-o,” I replied patiently, I did not have the same objection. If I did not wish to support Mr Murdoch’s enterprises I could refrain from buying his newspapers or subscribing to his television service – and no one could threaten me with arrest and imprisonment for so doing. This was, I suggested, a rather significant difference between the two media corporations.
In the startled silence of his response, I assumed that it had never occurred to him (as I say, this was some years ago) that anyone could question the justification for the legally enforced licence fee since it was clearly, for him, rooted in the inherent moral goodness of the BBC – and by implication of the ethical standards which it purveyed. The BBC may be trying to inculcate a bit more self-critical awareness among its personnel now but that smug righteousness of the Left-liberal media class has not gone away. It is, as you may have noticed, in something of a triumphal frenzy at the moment.
This has gone way, way beyond phone hacking. It is now about payback. Gordon Brown’s surreal effusion in the House last week may have made it embarrassingly explicit, but the odour of vengeance has been detectable from the start: not just from politicians who have suffered the disfavour of Murdoch’s papers, or the trade unions (and their political allies) who have never forgiven him for Wapping, but from that great edifice of self-regarding, mutually affirming soft-Left orthodoxy which determines the limits of acceptable public discourse – of which the BBC is the indispensable spiritual centre. The influence of the BBC as a monitor of what is politically admissible is almost incalculable: the entire Tory modernisation project was effectively made necessary (as its chief architects often admit) by the need to get a fair hearing on its news coverage.
But the power of the BBC – and its historical hatred for the “Murdoch empire” – is just one aspect of a larger battle which has now leapt across the Atlantic, where the target is not newspapers which can be legitimately charged with having committed unconscionable acts, but Fox News. Its offence is to have filled such a huge gap in the market for television news and current affairs that it has swept all before it. Its raucous Right-wing orientation is, in fact, matched by an equally raucous Left-wing equivalent in the cable news channel MSNBC, so why should anyone who believes in open and free debate among news providers object to this?
The problem is that Fox’s audience share is enormous, by far the largest of any cable news channel, whereas MSNBC’s is tiny, the smallest of any cable news channel. People are voting with their remotes for the kind of opinions they want to hear and the result is infuriating for the Left-liberal axis – and particularly for the Obama White House, which has made no secret of its desire to shut Fox News down.
There is, incidentally – contrary to the conjectures of some excitable commentators – no possibility of the “Murdoch empire” spawning a British version of Fox News. By law, broadcast news in Britain must be impartial. That is why all television news organisations in this country subscribe to pretty much the same soft-Left rendition of neutral reporting (in which Euroscepticism was, until very recently, treated as a lunatic fringe irrelevance, etc). And just the sort of liberal received opinion that now dominates television news because the tight regulation of licensed broadcasters demands it, could prevail in newspapers if the press were regulated (which is to say, licensed to operate) “in the same way that broadcasting is” – a suggestion which is being uttered in precisely those words even by Conservative politicians.
In fact, a similar rule of enforced neutrality applies in the US on network news programming: all news which is transmitted “over the airwaves” must be impartial (which there, too, means Left-liberal). It is only by the technical fluke of their being relayed by cable that the newer news channels such as Fox and MSNBC can show partisanship. Result: network news in the US is haemorrhaging viewers and cable news is hugely influential.
The cable news channels now play roughly the role in American politics that politically aligned newspapers do in Britain. To start regulating (licensing) the press would mean that we would have no frankly, vividly, politically potent news medium to counter whatever conventional wisdom was ordained by the self-appointed “enlightened” class of the day.
It is worth asking in both the British and American contexts why people who regard themselves as believers in free speech and liberal democracy can be so openly eager to close off – silence, kill, extinguish – different political views from their own. This is the question that is at the heart of the matter and which will remain long after every News International executive who may possibly be incriminated in the current scandal has been purged.
There is scarcely any outfit on the Right – be it political party, or media outlet – which demands the outright abolition of a Left-wing voice, as opposed to simply recommending restraint on its dominance (as I am with the BBC). That is because those of us on the Right are inclined to believe that our antagonists on the Left are simply wrong-headed – sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes malevolent but basically just mistaken. Whereas the Left believes that we are evil incarnate. Their demonic view of people who express even mildly Right-of-centre opinions (that lower taxes or less state control might be desirable, for example) would be risible if it were not so pernicious.
The Left does not want a debate or an open market in ideas. It wants to extirpate its opponents – to remove them from the field. It actually seems to believe that it is justified in snuffing out any possibility of our arguments reaching the impressionable masses – and bizarrely, it defends this stance in the name of fairness.
Freeze immigration and put British people first, says Labour Party guru
Insists ‘Britain is not an outpost of the UN’
Britain should freeze immigration to stop foreign workers taking jobs from Britons, according to one of Ed Miliband’s key policy gurus. Lord Glasman, who was appointed to the House of Lords by the Labour leader, said the country was not a United Nations ‘outpost’.
The peer also called for the UK to renegotiate rules allowing the free movement of migrant workers within the EU – a proposal that Mr Miliband insisted his close friend had not discussed with him.
Lord Glasman told the Daily Telegraph: ‘We’ve got to re-interrogate our relationship with the EU on the movement of labour. ‘Britain is not an outpost of the UN. We have to put the people in this country first. The EU has gone from being a sort of pig farm-subsidised bloc to the free movement of labour and capital.’
Lord Glasman, a politics lecturer and social thinker, said it may be necessary to stop immigration for a while to put British workers at the front of the queue for new jobs. Such a move would also make it easier for the genuinely deserving to be let into the country if they had in-demand skills, he suggested.
Lord Glasman said: ‘We should be more generous and friendly in receiving those [few] who are needed. To be more generous, we have to draw the line.’
As founder of ‘Blue Labour’, which mixes the principles of faith, flag and family with socialism, he has admitted his views can be ‘more conservative than the Conservatives’ and has accused Labour of lying over immigration.
Yesterday, Mr Miliband tried to play down the significance of his comments, adding: ‘I’ve said in the past we’ve underestimated the impact of Polish migration to Britain. It’s quite hard to negotiate the terms of free movement of labour.’
He said the right solution was to ‘have a firm immigration policy, also to provide people with the guarantees that they need in relation to wages and conditions which is one of the biggest worries that people have about some of the migration that we’ve seen’.
But he was urged to heed Lord Glasman’s advice by Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch campaign group, who said: ‘It’s quite clear that Ed Miliband still doesn’t get it if he’s talking about Polish migration when 80 per cent of net migration under Labour was from outside the EU. The public are going to get very tired of continuing Labour evasion on a matter of deep and widespread concern.’
However, Sir Andrew admitted: ‘Although Lord Glasman understands the depth of public feeling on immigration, renegotiating the free movement of people is over the top. It is simply not practicable.’
Ministers want to cut immigration to tens of thousands a year. But Lord Glasman’s renegotiation plan goes even further than calls by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith for bosses to employ young Britons ahead of foreigners.
British Judge’s fury as he has to free pervert, 73, who launched sex attack on teenager
A judge attacked ‘woefully inadequate’ sentencing guidelines yesterday after he was forced to allow a pervert to walk free from court.
Peter Bowers said his ‘training, history and background’ led him to believe nothing short of a custodial sentence would be appropriate for 73-year-old David Glover. He wanted to jail him for three years after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl – but said the pensioner would then be freed on appeal.
Sentencing guidelines advise judges to impose only a community order for Glover’s offence. Judge Bowers branded this ‘repugnant’ and gave Glover a suspended prison term to register his ‘dislike’ of the system.
‘Unfortunately, we are saddled these days with what are called sentencing guidelines and for your particular offence it seems to be suggested that the sentence should be some sort of community order,’ he said. ‘If I did give you an immediate sentence of two years or more, your barrister would be able to go to the Court of Appeal and they would overturn it.’
Glover, who pleaded guilty to three offences of sexual assault, was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with supervision and ordered to go on a sex offender treatment programme. He was also banned from having unsupervised contact with under-18s for the rest of his life.
The court was told how Glover, a retired council worker from Hartlepool, had convinced himself that his teenage victim was somehow attracted to him. He contacted the teenager through the internet in summer 2009 and made sexual remarks to her online and when they were in each other’s company.
Shaun Dodds, prosecuting, told Teesside Crown Court that Glover fondled the girl’s breasts over her clothes and tried to kiss her and put his hands in her underwear.
Judge Bowers told Glover: ‘You don’t really understand what was going on in your mind and the only way that can be dealt with is if you have the sex offender treatment programme.’
Building a wall between adults and children
The vital interactions between one generation and the next are being hampered by overblown fears of ‘stranger danger’
A few days ago, a group of school children dressed in uniforms got on the morning train I was on, all excited and chatting loudly. One of them sat down on the empty seat beside me, somewhat away from the others. Most of the passengers seemed to enjoy seeing the children and witnessing their excitement at getting out of school for the day, but there was no interaction with them and I continued to read my book.
But I was interrupted by the girl next to me, who told me: ‘I like your jacket.’ Surprised at this, I turned to her – she looked to be about 12 – and replied: ‘Thank you.’ She seemed to want to chat so I asked if the school was going on a trip and she confirmed that there were 60 pupils on the train, accompanied by teachers and other adults. She’d forgotten the name of the place where they were going, but she said they’d need to change trains and then catch a bus. She wasn’t entirely sure.
The girl told me that she was in her last year at primary school and was going to start at a ‘good’ secondary school nearby in September. She then asked me what I was reading and I told her a bit about the book. She wasn’t really interested in my response, so I asked where she was going to spend the school holidays. She was going to Albania for three weeks and was really looking forward to it. Her family goes there every year. She’d like to go to other places, too, she said, and I suggested that maybe she could when she grew up, had a job and money.
I recount this story in detail because these days it is unusual for an adult to have a conversation with a child they don’t know and it was a refreshing and pleasurable experience. But the really noteworthy thing is what happened next. A young woman, a teacher I assumed, approached us and told the girl to stop talking to me. Didn’t the girl remember that the school discourages children from talking to strangers?
I was flabbergasted but suggested to the teacher that by inference she didn’t trust me with the child. She denied it was anything personal, but that the children were told at school never to talk to people they didn’t know. I suggested that might be a problem but she reiterated that it was school policy. I suggested that maybe the school policy was wrong but she declined to respond, reiterated her instructions to the girl and walked away.
The girl and I sat in uncomfortable silence from then until her and the other children got off the train. I felt insulted, cheapened and angry by the exchange with the teacher. How has something as innocent and ordinary as talking to a school child been turned into a suspicious act?
I’m as aware as the next person of the ‘stranger danger’ obsession, and as a former health visitor I couldn’t but feel personally insulted by what the teacher said. I’ve worked with children and families for most of my life and I love kids. Of course I know this wasn’t a personal attack, but it hit home because it was so wrong.
It was astonishing that the young teacher had herself so absorbed the ‘stranger danger’ obsession that she felt confident to approach me, a woman old enough to be her mother, and indirectly tell me off. She felt no need to exercise discretion in view of the situation – the kids on an outing, a busy train, in full view of other passengers and teachers.
I was left wondering how these kids are ever going to learn how to interact with strangers, or how to assess situations for themselves and make nuanced judgements about other people? As a friend of mine told me on Facebook: ‘Our generation learned a lot as kids from adults in the wider community. They tolerated us hanging around and bugging them to show us how to do what they were doing. Unfortunately, this is almost impossible for most kids today and they suffer immeasurably as a result. As do we adults, because this vital inter-generational traffic is pretty much banned. Sadly, many teenagers are now shocked and affronted if you try to engage them in intelligent conversation.’
Raising and teaching children, while primarily a responsibility for parents and schools, is something that everyone should play a part in. In turn, adults need to communicate with children to understand the next generation. The communication between one generation and the next should not be shut down simply because of exaggerated fears about ‘stranger danger’.
Doorstep lectures on travelling without your car as army of British “advisers” teach families about ‘sustainable travel’
Hundreds of thousands of families are to be visited by travel advisers who will tell them to stop driving their cars. Armed with bus timetables and cycle route maps, they will knock on doors and lecture on the need for ‘sustainable travel’.
The doorstep campaign by the army of taxpayer-funded ‘personal travel advisers’ is part of a £156million effort by ministers to persuade people to leave their cars at home when they go to work or the shops, or take children to school.
Of 39 councils who will share the ‘sustainable transport’ money, 32 have said they will use some of it for advising individuals on how they can get around without their car. About 300,000 families are liable to get a visit.
Darlington has already run trials using paid advisers to go door to door. It will now get £375,000 for a scheme to visit all 45,900 homes in the area.
In Hereford, the 74,282 homes in the city will be visited twice, once for advisers to give information on public transport and cycling, and three months later to check whether the advice is being followed.
Blackpool has offered its residents a questionnaire on the way they travel, which asks for personal details, information about journeys made, and asks questions such as ‘what prevents you from cycling?’ and ‘do you know where your nearest bus stop is?’
Ministers have told MPs that the spending is good value for taxpayers. Liberal Democrat Transport Minister Norman Baker said in a statement to MPs that the money will ‘support authorities in delivering local economic growth while cutting carbon emissions from transport.’ He added: ‘The Department is confident that the overall package of proposals included in this first round represents high value for money.’
John O’Connell of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘Schemes like these represent poor value for money for taxpayers. They don’t address the real issues facing commuters on congested roads or packed trains. ‘With tighter budgets, silly schemes should be consigned to the scrapyard.’
On the streets of Darlington last week travel advisers said they were meeting mixed success. With trolleys full of pamphlets in tow, Alex Clarke, 21, and Chris Chance, 28, who were on contract for the council, said some members of the public were more receptive than others.
Mr Chance said: ‘Some people we’ve spoken to have never considered using any other form of transport than a car.
Even in Britain school discipline is possible — and VERY beneficial
One of the most depressing programmes I’ve seen this year was last week’s BBC documentary that filmed a class of nine-year-olds at a Leicester primary school. The portrait of indiscipline and chaos that emerged left me in utter despair.
While a valiant few got on with their work, many children were loud and disruptive, wandering around the class, talking, singing, arguing, pulling faces – even right in front of the teacher.
One girl used her whiteboard to write down as many swear words as she could think of.
When the teacher watched the footage of her class, she said what she’d learned was that ‘where she placed herself in the classroom’ was of vital importance. At which point, I practically wept. Sadly, she was utterly oblivious to the fact that one of the fundamental causes of her pupils’ bad behaviour was not where she sat, but where her pupils sat.
Instead of having individual desks, they were grouped around tables scattered about the room. Most of the children faced each other, not the teacher. There was no structure and no discipline. Unsurprisingly, they were bored and disruptive.
The extraordinary thing was that this was no sink school. On the contrary, its rating from Ofsted is good. Nor were the children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
They came from loving homes in the ‘squeezed middle’ bracket. Indeed, the chief purpose of filming was to show disbelieving parents footage of their unruly children so that steps could be taken at home to improve behaviour.
Now, I’m all for parental involvement, but what this programme proved was just how little chance even well-behaved children have when they are taught like this.
Children need boundaries and structures to teach them discipline. Even petty rules can be important. Witness, by way of contrast to the Leicester school, the traditional teaching methods that have been espoused by headmaster Sir Michael Wilshaw at Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, East London.
At Mossbourne, pupils are sent home even for wearing the wrong colour shoes. If they arrive late or without their school planner, they have to stay in at break or lunch.
Mobile phones are banned, substantial homework is set, and any pupils who disrupt a lesson or are rude to staff have to stay behind until 6pm.
Teachers work 15-hour days because they recognise that many pupils are unlikely to be returning to a home where they’re encouraged to do their homework, so stay after hours to help them do it at school.
And when the children do go home, teachers and a few ‘heavies’ line the route to the bus-stop so no one gets beaten up for wearing a smart uniform.
The result is that, last year, ten pupils from Mossbourne were accepted into Cambridge. Meanwhile, there are 1,500 applicants for 180 places at the school.
Sir Michael is tipped to become the new head of Ofsted and I fervently hope he’s appointed.
As those of us who went to grammar schools know, what’s needed is not lessons in happiness and wellbeing but structure, discipline and dedicated teaching.
Cholesterol at danger level? Why your doctor could be wrong
By John Naish
Recently I broke a strict personal rule by undergoing a complete private health screening. I’d always rigorously avoided such things, but this was obligatory for work. The battery of tests did the exact thing that I feared. It revealed a potential health problem I had never previously known — nor worried — about. The results showed I have high total cholesterol. Mine is 6.6mmol/l — the target is 5.1.
But I won’t be rushing to my family doctor. That’s because as a health journalist, I’ve seen the way the ‘danger’ threshold for cholesterol has been revised steadily down. Twenty years ago, I would have been well inside the ‘healthy’ category (back then you had to be over 7.6 to be considered unhealthy).
But am I being wise to ignore this warning? A new book by an expert on medical screening strongly vindicates my position. As author Dr H. Gilbert Welch explains: ‘There are many conditions that you can now be labelled with simply because you are on the wrong side of a number, not because you have any symptoms.’
Take diabetes — earlier this month it was revealed the NHS is lowering the threshold for diagnosing type 2 diabetes. As a result, the number of cases could rise by 20 per cent — a massive number. That means thousands more people will be treated for the condition without necessarily having any symptoms.
This is just another example of what Dr Welch describes as an ‘epidemic’ of overdiagnosis. In other words, physical abnormalities that will most likely lie dormant for the rest of our lives are being detected and treated as if you are actually ill.
Dr Welch, who is professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Virginia in the U.S., points the finger at our overzealous use of screening — blood tests and scans — which has caused millions of people to believe they are mortally sick when, in fact, they are perfectly healthy.
Worse, it has led countless numbers to take drugs and undergo surgery completely unnecessarily. As a result, they have suffered everything from botched removals of breast lumps to, says Dr Welch, medication-related car crashes.
At the heart of the problem is a change in medical culture over the past three decades. In the past, people didn’t go to the doctor when they were well — they tended to wait until they developed symptoms. And doctors didn’t encourage the healthy to seek care.
But that has changed. ‘Early diagnosis is the goal. People seek care when they are well,’ says Dr Welch.
‘But a patient who has been overdiagnosed cannot benefit from treatment. There’s nothing to be fixed — he or she will neither develop symptoms nor die from their condition — so the treatment is not needed. ‘An overdiagnosed patient can only be harmed. And almost all treatments have the potential to do some harm.’
On top of this, there are changes to the thresholds that doctors use to judge if a person is ill or not. Dr Welch points to the example of diabetes. ‘The old rule, from when I was in medical school 30 years ago, was that if you had a blood-sugar level over 140, you had diabetes. But in 1997 experts changed the international definition. ‘Now, if you have a reading of more than 126 you have diabetes. That little change turned millions of people into patients.’
As treatment is expanded to people with progressively milder abnormalities such as slightly high blood sugar, their potential to benefit from treatment becomes progressively smaller. But the risk from dangerous side-effects remains much the same.
Another reason for our modern diagnosis epidemic is the fact that we can see more inside the human body — thanks to high-tech machinery such as MRI scanners and CT scanners. They enable doctors to spot things that might be troublesome — even if they aren’t causing trouble and may very well never do so.
When investigators in three separate studies systematically scanned large numbers of healthy people, they found that about 10 per cent have gallstones, even though they have never had symptoms of gall bladder disease. Around 40 per cent show damaged knee cartilage, even though they have never had knee pain. And more than 50 per cent of people who have never had back pain show bulges in the discs in their spine when scanned by MRI.
In another test, in the journal Radiology, when 1,000 people were given total-body CT scans in commercial clinics, even though they had no problem symptoms, 86 per cent had at least one abnormality detected.
So if you go into hospital for broad-scale scanning tests, doctors are almost bound to find something problematic that needs ‘treatment’, even if it wasn’t what they were originally looking for — and even if it is, in fact, never going to cause problems.
The same sort of problem can occur with public-health campaigns such as Britain’s breast-screening programme. The potential dangers of overdiagnosis have even led the president of the Royal College of GPs, Iona Heath, to decline invitations to attend screening sessions.
Advocates of such screening say it prevents diseases, prompts early detection and saves lives — along with millions of pounds of NHS money. But as Dr Heath explains, a study of research evidence by the respected Cochrane Reviews Library ‘suggests that for every 2,000 women invited to screening for ten years, one death from breast cancer will be avoided but that ten women will be overdiagnosed with breast cancer’.
She adds: ‘This overdiagnosis is estimated to result in six extra tumour removals and four extra mastectomies and in 200 women risking significant psychological harm relating to the anxiety triggered by the further investigation of mammographic abnormalities.’
And now we’re entering new realms of disease-seeking, with the advent of DNA testing. Already, numerous commercial enterprises have emerged that will take your DNA and your money, promising to unlock the secrets of your genes.
But while DNA tests can reveal that you have a raised risk of developing one illness and a lower risk of another, ‘for the vast majority of conditions these predictions are inaccurate to the point of being meaningless’, says Dr Welch.
This is because our genes are not our destiny. Factors such as nutrition and harmful exposure to toxins affect human characteristics, even before birth, as does physical and even intellectual activity in childhood. ‘Virtually all of us will have genetic “abnormalities” if we look for them. So the new world of personal genetic testing has the potential to make all of us sick and arguably poses the greatest threat of overdiagnosis of all.’
Dr Welch is careful to say his scepticism is about testing for problems in people who are, to all intents and purposes, entirely well and free from any symptoms. ‘I am not saying that if you have early signs of symptoms of cancer, you shouldn’t go to your doctor,’ he explains.
‘The question is whether your doctor should be screening for cancers when you are well. It can hurt you. It can lead to you being overdiagnosed and treated needlessly.’
As for me, I’m going to stick to my everyday lifestyle — a vegetarian who exercises a lot — rather than start popping pills.