Jeremy Hunt FOIA update:

November 4, 2012

A follow up to this

I have had a reply from the DoH regarding my request to see the evidence that Jeremy Hunt claimed to have about a 12 week limit for abortion:

02/11/2012

DE00000730638

Dear Mr Briggs,

Thank you for your request of 8 October 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act (2000).  Your exact request was:

“Recently the Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP has been quoted as saying that

“I’m not someone who thinks that abortion should be made illegal. Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when that moment is and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/06/jeremy-hunt-12-week-abortion-limit

Please provide all sources of evidence that Jeremy Hunt MP used in reaching this decision. In cases in which the piece of evidence itself cannot be provided, please provide a suitable citation or URL to where the evidence can be obtained.”

I can confirm that the Department does not hold any information relevant to your request.

The views expressed were related to his vote, in May 2008 about the abortion amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. This was prior to his appointment to the Department in September 2012.

Please note that abortion is a matter for Parliament and not for the Government.

The Government has no plans to change the law. It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and, as with all matters of conscience, that decisions are made on the basis of free votes.

If you have any queries about this email, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed to:

Head of the Freedom of Information Team

Department of Health

Room 317

Richmond House

79 Whitehall ,

London

SW1A 2NS

Email: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xx.xxx.xxx.xx 

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner (ICO) for a decision. Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by the Department. The ICO can be contacted at:

The Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Young

Freedom of Information Officer
Department of Health

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xx.xxx.xxx.xx 

I guess this response is perhaps not too surprising, but a little disappointing. The statement that -

the Department does not hold any information relevant to your request

- suggests that the ‘evidence’ of which Hunt spoke was not handed to him by a civil servant, and is not an official DoH position. Furthermore, given that -

The Government has no plans to change the law. It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and, as with all matters of conscience, that decisions are made on the basis of free votes.

- it would appear that Hunt as a minister is not even in a position to propose a vote to change the limit on abortion.

However, the question of where Hunt’s evidence comes from remains.

He claimed to have seen evidence, which he has failed to reveal.  An omission? An error? A lie?

If we cannot rely on the Minister for Health, head of a department that should be a beacon of evidence-based-policy, to be straight with us regarding evidence, what hope have we that he will treat what remains of the NHS with the necessary regard?

If anyone has any ideas about how this might be taken further, comments are welcome.


If Nelsons goods are banned from being imported into the US…

August 10, 2012

…guess which US homeopathy advocate is still flogging one of their products on his website?


UK based manufacturer of homeopathic remedies Nelsons have been severely reprimanded by the US FDA for a slew of manufacturing cock-ups. [ Quackometer | FDA letter to Nelsons]

Cock-ups include:

  • “glass fragments present during the manufacture” and ” in the Clikpak Assembly”
  • “one out of every six bottles did not receive the dose of active homeopathic drug solution due to the wobbling and vibration of the bottle assembly during filling of the active ingredient. The active ingredient was instead seen dripping down the outside of the vial assembly. Your firm lacked controls to ensure that the active ingredient is delivered to every bottle.”
  • “The dosing process has not been validated appropriately. Specifically, your surrogate validation study, “Medication of un-medicated pillules with (b)(4),” visually demonstrates the variability of the amount of (b)(4) for the pillules in one vial. Your firm lacks control of the variation for the amount of the active ingredient in the pillules.”
  • “Your firm does not have an established written program to calibrate/qualify the Perkin Elmer Clarus gas chromatograph (GC) at suitable intervals.”
  • ” Your firm did not calibrate and qualify the Jasco high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) instrumentation adequately, in that there is no periodic qualification or evaluation of the pump, oven, injector, or detector. The “Use and Calibration of HPLC” procedure does not include criteria to define adequate calibration of the instrument.”

Basically – they don’t manufacture their remedies in a controlled and consistent manner, and they cannot monitor this because it’s homeopathy, there’s nothing to monitor they don’t maintain the equipment for doing so in the correct and proper fashion.

If this was a real drug company, the implications could be disastrous. If one in six packs of antibiotics was duff, you can bet that we’d hear about that and there would be huge fines levied all round.

One wonders if users of the duff batches of remedies noticed the lack of “powerful gentle natural effective” homeopathic active ingredient, and promptly complained to Nelsons about this?

This failure to adhere to best practice has landed Nelsons on the FDA red list [Link - scroll down to United Kingdom] – “Detention Without Physical Examination of Drugs From Firms Which Have Not Met Drug GMPs” – it seems (from my reading of this notice) that Nelsons cannot export their goods to the US, and if US customers officials discover people bringing Nelsons products into the US they are to confiscate the goods. This will clearly have a negative impact on their US exports, and Nelsons are clearly rather proud of their export success [Link].

NB. Nelsons also make the Prince Charles’ Duchy Orignal line of herbal remedies [Link - Warning - Daily Mail].

So, can Nelsons products be sold in the US?

I don’t know about the legal ramification about being on the red list, but I cannot find mention of a US based manufacturing facility. Indeed, the Nelsons website states that

Our range of products meet the appropriate UK and global regulatory and licensing requirements, and are made in our Wimbledon manufacturing facility which operates to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and rigorous procedures. [Link]

Clearly the FDA might have something to say about the “Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and rigorous procedures”.

However, as Nelsons homeopathic products are manufactured in Wimbledon, UK, it follows that any Nelsons products sold in the US must have been imported. I don’t imagine that the FDA red notice acts retrospectively, but obviously, as we are repeatedly told that “homeopathy is exceedingly popular and therefore it must work” :) – one imagines that US stocks of Nelsons goods will soon run dry. I invite you to keep your eye on this page [link - warning - may cause nausea and temporary blindness ;)] to see when then this occurs.

Obviously, such a high profile and conscientious homeopath will ensure that the information on his website will remain up-to-date and entirely responsible. Moreover, given the concerns about the quality of Nelsons goods, one wonders if said homeopath will stop supplying them, to avoid the stigma of being tainted by Nelsons new-earned reputation for poor quality goods.


Blogpost: Should homeopathy be banned on the NHS?

March 20, 2012

A quickie about this poll: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/poll/2012/mar/19/homeopathy-banned-nhs

Prof Edzard Ernst has said that homeopathy should not be offered on the NHS.

Correct.

In a nutshell, it is an implausible modality which lacks robust scientific evidence to demonstrate:
A) that it works
B) how it works.

Application of Occam’s razor (still a valid tool in scientific deduction) suggests that it is nothing more than a highly ritualised placebo (see posts passim).

However, this poll in ‘Teh Grauniad’ has been worded (either accidentally or not) in a way to polarise opinion and push any undecided liberals (small ‘l’ – them who generally dislike banning of anything – myself included) in the direction of the ‘no’ button, and add to the popular fallacy/delusion amongst the altmed community that OMG THE SKEPTIKZ ARR FACISTS.

The wording Prof Ernst, should not be offered, is a much better way of posing the question, as it sticks to the heart of the matter without invoking any sort of totalitarianism amongst those that seek to only offer evidence-based treatment on the NHS.

I strongly believe that homeopathy should not be offered on the NHS, because it has not been conclusively demonstrated to work any better than a placebo. A cash-strapped NHS (whatever may become of it) should not be spending taxpayer’s money on stuff that does not work.

If people want to waste their own money on some of the most expensive sugar imaginable, that’s their own business.

Besides, this poll is nothing more than a “who can spread the word around their community fastest” competition, and irrespective if the outcome, is just an appeal to popularity.


University of Manchester! Y U host Psychic?

February 11, 2012

Why is a top five-rated UK university with recent Nobel prize wins for research staff hosting a Psychic Night at one of its conference centres?

Woo at UoM

I know times are hard in the HE sector, but UoM is an esteemed centre of learning, not some dodgy two-bit end-of-the-pier show.

At least the events page at the Chancellors Hotel has the sense to state that:

Theatre demonstrations are to be deemed for entertainment purposes only.”

Still, given that there is zero/zilch/nada/none credible evidence that there is “life after death”, or that certain people can communicate with the dead, should an academic institution with the credibility of UoM give oxygen to this brand of charlatanry?

Hat tip to @Andrew_Taylor for pointing this out.


ASA swamped with complaints re: Homeopathy.

March 18, 2011

Quickie about a letter from the ASA to all who have complained about website with homeopathic levels of honesty.


As you may or may not be aware, the Nightingale Collaboration has co-ordinated a campaign to highlight and complain about some of the ridiculous and unsupportable claims that alternative medicine practitioners make on their websites – the current project is targeting homeopathy websites within the UK.

As someone who has complained recently about a homeopathic website or two, I recently received this bulk mail-out from the ASA:

Dear Sir/Madam

ADVERTISING CLAIMS ON HOMEOPATHY WEBSITES

Thank you for your recent complaint.

As you may know, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received over a hundred and fifty complaints about over a hundred different websites for homeopathy.  Complaints cover a range of issues from specific claims made by individual advertisers to general concerns about the sector as a whole.  Because of the volume of complaints, we are sending this letter to everyone who contacted us on these issues to let you know what action we intend to take.

The ASA has an established position on claims that can be made, and those claims that are not likely to be acceptable for homeopathy, based on the requirements set out in the CAP Code and previous ASA adjudications.  Although we have not historically received many complaints about advertising for homeopathy, the Code has general requirements for substantiation of claims in the health sector and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) offers specific advice on marketing health-related products and services. Further information about the requirements of the advertising Code is available on our website www.asa.org.uk and from www.copyadvice.org.uk.

We are seeking to enforce compliance with the Code even-handedly across the sector by contacting all of the advertisers we have received complaints about as well as the bodies that represent homeopaths and homeopathy in the UK.  We will be explaining the Code’s requirements, giving advice on how to ensure advertising claims do not breach the Code, and asking advertisers to remove any claims which do not comply.  More information about what that means in practice is provided in the CAP Help Notes on Substantiation for Health, Beauty and Slimming claims and Health, Beauty and Slimming Marketing Communications that Refer to Medical Conditions.  You can find these documents on our Copy Advice website, as indicated above.  Because the ASA has only been regulating websites since 1 March many of the advertisers we contact will not be familiar with us or the work we do and will need help and assistance from us.  For that reason, we plan to monitor compliance 3 months after making our expectations of them clear. We feel that this will give advertisers, some of whom are very small and have limited resources, sufficient time to make the necessary changes.

The ASA will not be publishing individual adjudications on this occasion.  We will however publish specific, up-to-date advice to the industry and its representative bodies in due course and we will work with them to ensure that advertising for homeopathy is compliant with the Code.

Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us.  While you will not see immediate results please be assured that we are working hard in the background to resolve the issues that have been complained about.

Yours sincerely

What do I think about this?

First off  it shows that the Nightingale Collaboration (NC) has been successful in co-ordinating a fair few complaints within the 2-and-a-half weeks it has been running this campaign – whether this number of complaints matches the expectations of the NC, only they know.

It would appear that the ASA recognise that UK-based homeopaths are often making unsupportable claims about the efficacy of their sugar pills on their websites – to such an extent that they are going contact both the complained-about homeopaths and their ‘regulatory’ bodies (ARH, SoH, BHA etc) about these breaches, and make them aware of the rules that they should be adhering too. If after 3 months they have not complied with UK advertising regulations – the ASA may take further action.

Whilst individual complainers may miss out on the satisfaction of seeing adjudications against the websites they have complained about – the end result should be the same – and in fact much more far reaching. This wholesale action against all UK-homeopaths (via their ‘professional’ bodies) by the ASA should ensure that they are no longer allowed to make outrageous claims about efficacy (or claim that they were unaware of the rules).

Provided the ASA take a suitably tough line with the homeopaths, and they ensure that the rules are adhered to, I think that this can be seen as a very effective first strike by the Nightingale Collaboration.


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