Kneecapped By The Government

The UK government have managed to pass a pretty horrendous bill for the democracy of the country.  It is hoped, or at least I hope, that the bill will be changed again shortly, but I do not hold out much hope.  At times it seems as if this country is sleep walking to a place I dare not think about.  I am intensely aware of the many freedoms we have in the UK, of our beautiful country, but I do fear for the future.  The civilian population must remain vigilant and hold our politicians to account over their links with big business.  It is easy to get carried away with these kind of things, but we must make a stand for moral democracy and the right of the everyman.

Scriptonite Daily has done a particularly effective blog post on the ins and outs of the effects of the bill which is highlighted below.

From the Scriptonite Daily website:

“Last night, the UK government passed the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.  A bill gagging charities, NGO’s, bloggers, community groups and most attempts at organised opposition to the government in the year prior to a general election…and just in time for the General Election next year.

What is the Gagging Law?

 The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, or Gagging Law, was hailed as the UK government’s answer to the issue of commercial lobbying.

But, this bill does not take on the political power of wealthy corporate lobbyists.  Instead, it kneecaps any attempts at organised local and national opposition by civil society, so as not to influence the outcome of general elections.  It is a gagging law.  The law puts in place a range of bureaucratic and financial barriers amounting to a gag on free speech and effective opposition.  These include:

  • The maximum that can be spent before groups have to be registered with the Electoral Commission £20,000 in England and £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
  • Reduce the overall UK-wide spending limit before elections from £988,500 at present to a new limit of £450,000.  To put this in perspective – campaign group 38Degrees has 1.7m members, this would mean neutering their spending power on posters, staff, adverts and ancillary costs to just 26p per member.
  • Putting in place a spending cap of just £9,750 in a particular constituency, in the year running up to a general election – while the local MP can spend as much as they like until just 4 months from the election.

The new spending limits will come into effect on 19th September this year.”

Read the full post here.

As bloggers we must raise our voices.  To stand idly by is to legitimise the actions of those that lead us.

Bad Pharma, or The Worst April Fool’s Joke

I’m currently reading Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients‘.  It would be fair to say that this is a book that can change the way you think about medicine and the medical world.  I am only a third of the way through but it has already provided so many insights into how the industry works, cataloging both the damages that have been wrought, and what can be essentially fixed with fairly minimal fuss.  In particular the book deals with the suppression of negative and missing data, that is not published or made accessible to regulatory bodies, hospitals or doctors, ie pretty much everyone in the realm of medicine.

This is particularly interesting in the case of National Institute  for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the UK body that help to regulate and provide decisions on which medicines best benefit patients in the UK.  Even this body does not have access to companies and researchers, who are legally allowed to hide, not publish and prevent governmental bodies from accessing valuable research (Goldacre: 28).  All in the name of profit and exploitation.

Legal battles with drug companies for access to information can lead to years of legal wrangling.  The European Medicines Agency, a EU wide body that approves and regulates drugs for use throughout the Union, has also been known to block researcher access to study reports on drugs due to ‘commercial interest’, even in the view of a systematic review to uncover which drugs are most effective treatments for certain life-saving conditions (Goldacre: 71).

This book is an essential yet disturbing read on how drug companies work, and how they influence bodies across the board.

In some good news India’s Supreme Court has stopped Novartis patenting a cancer drug that is desperately needed.  This gives the Indian drug companies the opportunity to make generic copies of the cancer drug to give to patients at a price that they can afford.  The comments from Novartis are, largely, disgusting, with threats to pull out of the India market altogether.  Ah, the price of profit is a body dropping dead it seems- well done Novartis.

Yesterday was April the 1st, a high time for jokes and japes of all characters.  Yet the British government have seen that day as a choice day to enact deep structural changes to the NHS, as well as the partitioning and selling off of certain parts of the NHS to private contractors, with a specific clause for buyers not to favour the NHS options when considering equipment and staff.  This can only end in one way- to benefit the big pharma and private companies, and not to help patients.  Unbelievably the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently dropped the clause that put the rights of patients first to be formally enshrined at the heart of the NHS, this was a Central Recommendation of the Mid Staffordshire inquiry.

This is a fundamental step towards watering down the value and accessibility of the NHS.  In particular this is a step away from seeing patients as a person to fix and to heal, to seeing patients as moneybags.  This will have dire effects on individuals with rare diseases, where the treatment is costly and specialist.  I worry for the future of the NHS, an institution that has cared for me in my direst hours, after intense surgery and massive blood loss, caring for my broken bones and helping me to heal once again.

The ‘Missing Data’ section of the above book got me thinking about how science is applied and researched in other disciplines, especially in my own realm of human osteology and archaeology.  The meta-analyses and systematic reviews in particular could be a useful approach to identifying and classification of disease in palaeopathology, with regards and relation to the clinical medical data.  I bet there is some interesting results in the way bioarchaeologists and osteologists present their data.

Atos Incompetence

The benefit system in the UK is to undergo a major change in April 2013, with a Universal credit system replacing the variety of options at the minute.  However a bigger change is also underway, the way in which disabled people are tested for work.  Atos, a French company, have been given the contract to review every disabled person the UK, whether they are on ESA (Employment Support Allowance), or DLA (Disabled Living Allowance).

“The French multinational Atos was brought in by Labour in 2008 to assess 2.5 million people on incapacity benefit to see if they were fit for work, for which it was to be paid £110m a year. To do this, it used a so-called “logic integrated medical assessment”, which critics claim makes it very difficult for health professionals to exercise their professional judgment. It’s computer-based and has little or no regard to the complexity of the needs of severely disabled or sick persons.

This is why the British Medical Association has condemned the WCA as unfit for purpose. Those who have been assessed often feel the opinion of their own health professionals have been overridden or ignored. As Iain McKenzie, Labour MP for Inverclyde, put it: “It is ridiculous to have people making an assessment based on a tick-list that looks like it should be used for an MOT on a car.”

You could dismiss this as conjecture: but these are the facts. There are 1.6 million claimants on incapacity benefit, assessed at a rate of 11,000 every week. On average 40 per cent of challenged decisions are overturned at tribunal – one in ten of the total assessed. It has cost £60m thus far to assess the appeals. Some 1,300 people have died after being placed in the “work-related activity group” for those expected to start preparing for an eventual return – 2,200 died before the assessment process was completed.” (Bold emphasis by me).

Read more from this New Statesman article by Alan White here.

Shockingly Atos were also the sponsors of the London 2012 Paralympic games.  You can’t make this shit up.