Dr No's Editor's Choice

A selection of Dr No's posts, ordered by number of page views. Older posts tend to have more weight because they have been around longer, and so have more time to gain page views.

Re-order by date (latest first), number of comments (desc), no particular order (random) or return to order by page views.



More Stackery

stackery n., – the art of confounding people about statins.

Just when you thought it was safe not to take your statins, another report hits the fan. Or rather three. The Oxford academic Sir Rory Collins, who does for statins what Viagra does for old men, has been banging on BMJ editor Dr Fiona Godlee’s back door – curiously he declined to provide an open letter for publication - demanding she retract two articles published in the journal recently. Both articles claimed, as part of their arguments, that statins had high rates of side-effects, affecting up to 20% of all patients taking the drugs. The gist was that not only were statins pretty useless for primary prevention of cardio-vascular disease (folk with no prior history of CVD: NNT’s in the high tens if not hundreds), they also caused unacceptably high rates of side-effects, some of which were serious. The implication, though not stated in such lurid terms, was that peddling statins to low-risk folk was little short of institutionalised quackery.

Council to Survey Turkeys about Christmas

For Immediate Release:

Council to Survey Turkeys about Christmas

GTC Press Office, London, UK

Thousands of turkeys are to be invited to take part in a survey of their views about Christmas, the General Turkey Council has announced.

The survey is part of a new piece of research examining whether turkeys think the GTC is operating in a fair and objective way and whether turkeys from different backgrounds have different views of the Council’s processes.

Dropping Like Flies

The Inquisition known for the time being as the General Medical Council is under fire. Its fitness to practice procedures, which for doctors caught on the sharp end of one of Stilton’s prongs feel much like being popped into a beaker of dilute sulphuric acid with a rack of Bunsen burners arrayed underneath, have come under scrutiny because of an apparently high mortality attached to being left to simmer in warm sulphuric acid. Figures available online suggest that there were at least 92 deaths between 2004 and 2012 in doctors under investigation. The denominator – which Dr No suggests should be the number of GMC cases referred to panel investigations – stands somewhere in the region of 2300 (see footnote), giving an approximate average annual mortality rate of 4%. Working age (25-64) mortality in the same period was around 200 per 100,000, or 0.2%. Something is clearly going on. If we apply some crude ‘observed over expected’ numerology to these figures, we get a (very) crude mortality ratio, on the normal 100 base, of around 2000: that is, where we would expect 100 deaths, we find 2000.

The Baby and the Bath Water

The night before last, the Section 75 Regulations slipped through The Lords like a U-boat, silent and deep. A limpet mine attached to the hull by one Lord Hunt failed to go off, and the boat got through unscathed. The crew even found time to loose off a few tin fish at 38 Degrees, but, on the whole, anyone watching the surface of events would have seen nothing remarkable. Certainly the BBC saw nothing remarkable, and reported nothing. The recent Reynolds analogy, that if the Health and Social Care Act was an aeroplane, then the regulations were the engines that would enable it to fly, failed to take off, leaving no scope for engines on fire, or jumbo-jets falling out of the sky. The health service revolution said to be so large it can be seen from space is all but invisible on earth. There has been no bang, not even a whimper, just the night time passage, silent and deep, of some regulations through the Lords. Nothing has changed - except that the U-boat is now on the inside, torpedoes armed and periscope at the ready. The lumbering ships of the health service convoy still steam across the healthcare seas, unaware of the peril that now lurks in the deeps.

Most Drugs Don’t Work

Just over three years ago, when few had heard of him, Dr No wrote a post called The Collapse of the Probability Function. At its heart lies the troublesome paradox that, while we might know how a group of patients might fare, we have no way of knowing how individual patients will fare. We might know that of a hundred patients, five will die in the next ten years from a heart attack. What we don’t know is who of the hundred will be the five; and the flip side of that is, when as doctors we choose to intervene, as increasingly we do, there are ninety five souls now tangled in our medical web, with all that that entails, be it tests, treatments and general apprehension, who were never going to have a heart attack anyway, let alone die from one in the next ten years. That’s a whole lot of medical intervention without any benefit whatsoever – but what the heck – overall, we might save a handful of lives - or so the hopeful reasoning goes.

Nailing Doctors

A hundred years ago, when Britannia ruled the waves, our language was high on a tide of nautical terms. Today, in the age of the automobile, it is to motoring that we turn for our metaphors. The complexities of nutrition are reduced to the simplicities of traffic lights. The rigours of medical regulation – revalidation – are simply MOTs for doctors. Latest on the bandwagon is the Royal College of Caring and Sharing, which has shared, on facebook of course, its Social Media Highway Code. There is, inevitably, a lot of caring, and even more sharing, but, for this reader the wheels started coming off the code when it likened today’s doctors to yesterday’s Wild West cowboys. Are today’s doctors really so feeble that they cannot for themselves work out how to behave online?

The Apothecary: You’re Fired

Once upon a time, there were no GPs, only apothecaries. These corner-shop chemists evolved over time into today’s GPs, but their shop-keeping origins are still present even in today’s super-surgeries, and all the more so in the small lock-up single handed surgery. The short appointment times (it’s usually only a shopping trip, for Heaven’s sake), and expectation that the shopper-patient will not walk away empty-handed (what shop-keeper would so disappoint his or her customer?) are two leading characteristics of today’s general practice that stem directly from its apothecarial trade roots.

Merely Potential Persons

An extraordinary paper published in that hot purple-top The Journal of Medical Ethics has ignited a storm of controversy. The naïve authors argue that a newborn is morally no different to a foetus – both being ‘merely potential persons’ – and thus infanticide – renamed after-birth abortion by the authors – should be permitted on the same grounds as those used for abortion. The pro-life lobby reacted predictably, and demonstrated forcefully that for many of them, pro-life sentiments do not extend to academic philosophers who espouse eugenic arguments. Quite the opposite, in fact: the authors, and the JME for publishing the paper, have been subjected to a torrent of hate, abuse, fire-crackers and death-threats.

Lest We Forget: A Poppy for the NHS

Dr No observes Remembrance. Last Friday, the day before yesterday, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and this time as it happens of the eleventh year of the century, he fell silent and still for two minutes, and remembered those who have given their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. It is a moment of solemn awe for the sacrifice made, and of great humility in the face of such selflessness.

Remembrance was made that bit more poignant this year by the breaking news that Circle Health had signed the long foretold contract to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital. This contract is a clear challenge to the authority, competence and perhaps most of all to the values of the NHS; a challenge which, if not seen off, will in short order threaten the very life of the NHS.

The Fracticalities of Regulation

The Care Quality Commission have reported on Winterbourne View, the rogue hospital exposed in May by Panorama - so that’s alright then, isn’t it, only, of course, it isn’t. The CQC headline, ‘CQC report on Winterbourne View confirms its owners failed to protect people from abuse’ belongs to the ‘report confirms thugs are thugs’ category, and is, as many have observed, a clear case of doors being bolted after horses have fled. No wonder the CGC has been dubbed the ‘Can’t Quite Cope’ commission. The moniker – undoubtedly British Dentistry’s greatest contribution to National Lampoonery – says it all.

The CQC, speaking on R4’s You and Yours, took the oleaginous line, and added what will surely become known as the Cameron defence – ‘we have all been in this together’.