Doctors Should Have A `Health Hazard' Warning Stamped On Their Foreheads

Today's doctors and nurses should carry a health hazard warning stamped on their foreheads. Each hospital should have a health warning notice hung over its entrance.

But our politicians - terrified of taking on the medicine `industry' - have done nothing to try to improve the quality of care provided to patients. The politicians have bent over backwards to keep the drug industry happy. Successive governments have done nothing to protect patients.

The incidence of doctor induced illness is now epidemic throughout the western world. At least one in six patients in hospital are there because of some side effect of their medication. It is impossible to quantify the overall size of the problem precisely - particularly in general practice - for the very simple reason that the vast majority of doctors just don't bother to record or report drug side effects (even though the evidence shows that 40% of patients suffer side effects while taking drugs). But there is no doubt that doctor induced illness is now one of (if not the) greatest cause of illness in most so called `developed' countries. Well over a million patients a year are admitted to English hospitals because they have been made ill by doctors.

More Harm Than Good

There is nothing new in the fact that doctors kill people. Doctors have always made mistakes and there have always been patients who have died as a result of medical ignorance or incompetence.

But, since we now spend more on health care than ever before, and since the medical profession is apparently more scientific and better equipped than ever before, there is a savage irony in the fact that we have now reached the point where, on balance, well-meaning doctors in general practice and highly trained, well-equipped specialists working in hospitals do more harm than good. The epidemic of iatrogenic disease which has always scarred medical practice has been steadily getting worse and today most of us would, most of the time, be better off without a medical profession.

Most developed countries now spend around 8% of their gross national products on health care (the Americans spend considerably more - around 12-14%) but through a mixture of ignorance, incompetence, prejudice, dishonesty, laziness, paternalism and misplaced trust doctors are killing more people than they are saving and they are causing more illness and more discomfort than they are alleviating.

Most developed countries now spend around 1% of their annual income on prescription drugs and doctors have more knowledge and greater access to powerful treatments than ever before, but there has probably never been another time in history when doctors have done more harm than they do today. I doubt if anyone knows just how much damage the overprescribing of drugs and vaccines (many of which are of dubious value) does to the human immune system. My personal view is that all those prescription drugs have had, are having, and are likely to continue to have, a devastating effect on human health.

It is true, of course, that doctors save thousands of lives by, for example, prescribing life saving drugs or by performing essential life saving surgery on accident victims.

But when the medical profession, together with the pharmaceutical industry, claims that it is the advances in medicine which are responsible for the fact that life expectancy figures have risen in the last one hundred years or so they are dead wrong. (Since they know that they are wrong it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are lying.)

Doctors and drug companies have for some time excused their errors and successfully distracted attention away from their incompetence by arguing that their efforts have resulted in a consistent and impressive improvement in life expectancy during the last century or so. The increasing size of our elderly (and disabled) population is, say the industry's supporters, a direct consequence of medical progress.

The truth, however, is rather different and the medical profession and the drug companies are guilty of a confidence trick of gargantuan proportions.

The fact is that during the last century doctors and drug companies have become louder, more aggressive, a good deal richer and far more powerful but life expectancy has not gone up.

Improved sanitation facilities have meant that the number of babies dying - and the number of women dying in childbirth - have fallen dramatically, but for adults life expectation has, not been rising.

To prove my point I prepared a list of 111 famous individuals - all of whom lived and died before the start of this century. I then checked to see how old these individuals were when they died. I'm printing the list below because it illustrates the point I'm making - and it is an important point: life expectation (now between 70 and 75 years in developed countries) has not risen appreciably during the last century.

You may find it illuminating to think of any other individuals who died before the start of this century - and to then check up to see how old they were when they died.

Andersen, Hans Christian. Died 1875 aged 70 years.
Aristotle. Died 322 BC aged 62 years.
Attila the Hun. Died in 453 BC aged 47 years.
Audubon, John. Died in 1851 aged 66 years.
Augustine, St Aurelius. Died in 430 aged 76 years.
Bach, JS. Died in 1750 aged 65 years.
Beethoven, Ludwig van. Died in 1827 aged 57 years.
Bentham, Jeremy. Died in 1832 aged 84 years.
Berlioz, Hector. Died in 1869 aged 66 years.
Bernini, Gian. Died in 1680 aged 82 years.
Bizet, Georges. Died in 1875 aged 37 years.
Blackmore RD. Died 1900 aged 75 years.
Blake, William. Died 1827 aged 70 years.
Botticelli, Sandro. Died in 1510 aged 66 years.
Brahms, Johannes. Died in 1833 aged 63 years.
Browning, Robert. Died 1889 aged 77 years.
Bruckner, Anton. Died 1896 aged 72 years.
Brummell, Beau. Died in 1840 aged 61 years.
Brunelleschi, Filippo. Died 1446 aged 69 years.
Canaletto. Died 1768 aged 71 years.
Cardigan, James , 7th Earl of. Died 1868 aged 71 years.
Carroll, Lewis. Died 1898 aged 66 years.
Casanova, Giovanni. Died 1798 aged 73 years.
Catherine the Great. Died in 1796 aged 67 years.
Charlemagne, (Charles the Great). Died 814 aged 67 yrs.
Charles 11. Died 1685 aged 55 years.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Died in 1400 aged 60 years.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Died 1834 aged 62 years.
Confucius. Died 479 BC aged 72 years.
Constable, John. Died in 1837 aged 60 years.
Copernicus, Nicolaus. Died in 1543 aged 70 years.
da Vinci, Leonardo. Died 1519 aged 67 years.
Daimler, Gottlieb. Died in 1900 aged 66 years.
Darwin, Charles. Died in 1882 aged 73 years.
de Cervantes, Miguel. Died in 1616 aged 69 years.
de Sade, Marquis. Died in 1814 aged 74 years.
Defoe, Daniel. Died in 1731 aged 71 years.
Dickens, Charles. Died in 1870 aged 58 years.
Disraeli, Benjamin. Died in 1881 aged 76 years.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Died 1881 aged 60 years.
Dryden, John. Died 1700 aged 69 years.
Dumas, Alexandre. Died 1870 aged 68 years.
Eliot, George. (Marian Evans) Died 1880 aged 61.
Elizabeth 1. Died in 1603 aged 70 years.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Died 1882 aged 79 years.
Engels, Friedrich. Died 1895 aged 75 years.
Epicurus. Died 271 BC aged 70 years.
Euripides. Died in 406 BC aged 78 years.
Francis of Assisi. Died 1226 aged 45 years.
Franklin, Benjamin. Died 1790 aged 84 years.
Galilei, Galileo. Died 1642 aged 78 years.
Garibaldi, Giuseppe. Died 1882 aged 75 years.
George 111. Died in 1820 aged 81 years.
Gladstone, William. Died in 1898 aged 88 years.
Goethe, Johann Wolfganag von. Died 1832 aged 83 years.
Gounod, Charles. Died 1883 aged 65 years.
Greco, El. Died 1614 aged 73 years.
Grimm, Wilhelm. Died 1859 aged 73 years.
Grimm, Jacob. Died 1863 aged 78 years.
Handel, George. Died 1759 aged 74 years.
Hansard, Luke. Died 1828 aged 76 years.
Haydn, Franz Joseph. Died in 1809 aged 77 years.
Henry V111. Died in 1547 aged 56 years.
Herod, the Great. Died 4BC aged 70 years.
Hippocrates. Died in 377 BC aged 83 years.
Hobbes, Thomas. Died 1679 aged 91 years.
Hogarth, William. Died in 1764 aged 67 years.
Humboldt, Alexander Baron von. Died 1859 aged 90 yrs.
Johnson, Samuel. Died in 1784 aged 75 years.
Jones, Inigo. Died 1652 aged 79 years.
Kant, Immanuel. Died 1804 aged 80 years.
Khan, Ghengis. Died in 1227 aged 65 years.
Khayyam, Omar. Died in 1123 aged 73 years.
Kublai Khan. Died 1294 aged 80 years.
Liszt, Franz. Died 1886 aged 75 years.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Died 1882 aged 75 years.
Macintosh, Charles. Died 1843 aged 77 years.
Marx, Karl. Died 1883 aged 65 years.
Michelangelo. Died in 1564 aged 89 years.
Milton, John. Died 1674 aged 66 years.
Montefiore, Sir Moses. Died 1885 aged 101 years.
Monteverdi, Claudio. Died 1643 aged 76 years.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Died in 1791 aged 35 years.
Nash, John. Died 1835 aged 83 years.
Newton, Isaac. Died in 1727 aged 84 years.
Nobel, Alfred. Died in 1896 aged 63 years.
Nostradamus. Died 1566 aged 63 years.
Offenbach, Jacques. Died 1880 aged 61 years.
Palladio. Died 1580 aged 72 years.
Pepys, Samuel. Died 1703 aged 70 years.
Plato. Died c.348 BC aged 80 years.
Polo, Marco. Died 1324 aged 70 years.
Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Died 1778 aged 66 years.
Ruskin, John. Died in 1900 aged 80 years.
Sandwich, John Montagu, 4th Earl of. Died 1792 aged 74.
Shakespeare, William. Died in 1616 aged 52 years.
Sophocles. Died in 406 BC aged 90 years.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Died in 1896 aged 85 years.
Stradivari, Antonio. Died in 1737 aged 93 years.
Tennyson, Lord Alfred. Died 1892 aged 83 years.
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Died 1863 aged 52 years.
Titian. Died in 1576 aged 99 years.
Turner, Joseph. Died in 1851 aged 76 years.
Victor Hugo. Died 1885 aged 83 years.
Voltaire, Francois. Died 1778 aged 84 years.
Washington, George. Died in 1799 aged 67 years.
Watt, James. Died in 1819 aged 83 years.
Wesley, John. Died in 1791 aged 87 years.
Whitman, Walt. Died 1892 aged 73 years.
Wordsworth, William. Died 1850 aged 80 years.
Wren, Christopher. Died in 1723 aged 90 years.

There are 111 names on this list. The average age at death was: 72.39 years. And, on average, it is 433 years since these each of these individuals died.

The conclusion is simple: despite all the expensive razzmatazz of modern medicine life expectation has simply not increased in the last century or so. The biblical promise of three score years and ten has been fairly steady for centuries.

Any improvement in life expectancy which has occurred in the last hundred years is not related to developments in the medical profession or to the growth of the international drug industry; but the increase in iatrogenesis is related to both these factors.

The American Evidence

If doctors really did help people stay alive then you might expect to find that the countries which had most doctors would have the best life expectation figures. But that isn't the case at all.

In America there is one doctor for every 500 people and life expectancy for black males is around 65. In Jamaica there is one doctor for every 7,000 people and life expectancy for men is around 69. In North Korea there is one doctor for every 400 patients and life expectancy for males is 63 years. In South Korea there is one doctor for every 1,500 people and life expectancy is 64 years. America spends more per head on health care than any other nation in the world and yet its citizens have one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the western world. (It is, of course, possible to argue that there are many other differences other than the number of doctors between South Korea and North Korea but it is reasonable to expect doctors to influence those factors. Moreover, if doctors as a group are going to claim responsibility for health care successes (which they do) then it is surely also fair that they should take overall responsibility for mortality and morbidity rates.)

When severely underdeveloped countries are compared to developed countries, and there are clear differences in infant mortality rates and life expectation figures, it is the differences in the infrastructure of the countries concerned which explains the difference. My view may sound startling and controversial but it is a view shared by a growing number of independent experts around the world. These figures hardly support the image of doctors as an effective healing profession.

Even more startling, perhaps, is the evidence of what happens when doctors go on strike and leave patients to cope without professional medical help.

You might imagine that without doctors people would be dying like flies in autumn. Not a bit of it. When doctors in Israel went on strike for a month admissions to hospital dropped by 85%, with only the most urgent cases being admitted, but despite this the death rate in Israel dropped by 50% - the largest drop since the previous doctors' strike twenty years earlier - to its lowest ever recorded level. Much the same thing has happened wherever doctors have gone on strike. In Bogota, Colombia doctors went on strike for 52 days and there was a 35% fall in the mortality rate. In Los Angeles a doctors' strike resulted in an 18% reduction in the death rate. During the strike there were 60% fewer operations in 17 major hospitals. At the end of the strike the death rate went back up to normal.

Whatever statistics are consulted, whatever evidence is examined, the conclusion has to be the same. Doctors are a hazard rather than an asset.

Figures published by the United States Bureau of Census show that 33% of people born in 1907 could expect to live to the age of 75 whereas 33% of the people born in 1977 could expect to live to the age of 80. Remove the improvements produced by better living conditions, cleaner water supplies, and the reduction in deaths during or just after childbirth and it becomes clear that doctors, drug companies and hospitals cannot possibly have had any useful effect on life expectancy. Indeed, the figures show that there has been an increase in mortality rates among the middle aged and an increase in the incidence of disabling disorders such as diabetes and arthritis. The incidence of diabetes, for example, is now reported to be doubling every ten years and the incidence of serious heart disease among young men is increasing rapidly. Today death rates from heart disease among adults are 50 times higher than they were at the start of the century. In countries such as America where there has been a slight fall in the incidence of heart disease it is clear that the improvement has been a result of better eating habits (by and large this simply means consuming less fatty food) rather than any improvement in medical care. The explosion of drugs and surgical treatments for heart disease has had no positive effect on death rates. On the contrary there is a considerable amount of evidence to show that the increase in the use of such procedures as angiography, drug therapy and heart surgery has resulted in more deaths. People in the West are being doctored and drugged to death.

Four out of five people in the world live in underdeveloped countries but four out of five drugs are taken by people in developed countries. Despite the expenditure of enormous amounts of money on screening programmes deaths of young women from cancer continue to go up and every time one infectious disease is conquered another seems to take its place. Bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and the number of disabled and incapable citizens in developed countries is increasing so rapidly that it is now clear that by the year 2020 the disabled and incapable will outnumber the healthy and able bodied.

In Britain, where free access to doctors and hospitals is available to everyone life expectancy for 40 year olds is lower than almost anywhere else in the developed world. In America 6% of hospital patients get a drug resistant, hospital induced infection and an estimated 80,000 patients a year die in this way. This puts hospital infections high among the top ten causes of death in America.

When doctors and drug companies produce figures which show that there has been a (usually slight) increase in life expectation during the last one hundred years or so they invariably overlook the massive contribution made by improved living conditions, cleaner drinking water, better sewage disposal facilities, more widespread education, better (and more abundant) food and better and safer methods of transport. All these factors have had a far more dramatic influence on mortality and morbidity rates than the provision of health care services.

High Tech And Low Tech

Relief organisations working in underdeveloped parts of the world are well aware that they can make an impact on mortality rates far more speedily by providing tools, wells and shelter than by building hospitals or clinics or importing doctors and nurses. Sadly, the governments receiving help are often loathe to accept this and are frequently much more enthusiastic about building state of the art hospitals complete with scanners, heart transplant teams and intensive care units than they are about building homes, installing irrigation systems or planting crops. This obsession with high technology leads to problems in all areas of health care. For example, the control of malaria was going well for as long as stagnant pools of water were removed, but when it was discovered that the mosquitoes could be killed by spraying DDT and that the disease could be controlled by using drugs such as chloroquine the authorities stopped bothering to remove stagnant pools. Today mosquitoes are resistant to DDT and the parasites which cause malaria are becoming resistant to the drugs: malaria now kills around 1.5 million people a year.

Infant Mortality Rates

Those who argue that doctors are responsible for any improvement in life expectancy which we may enjoy overlook the fact that from the dark ages, through the Renaissance and up to the first few decades of the 20th century, infant mortality rates were absolutely terrible and it was these massive death rates among the young which brought down the average life expectation.

The Foundling Hospital in Dublin admitted 10,272 infants in the years from 1775 to 1796 and of these only 45 survived. In Britain deaths among babies under one year old have fallen by more than 85% in the last century. Even among older children the improvement has been dramatic. In 1890 one in four children in Britain died before their tenth birthday. Today 84 out of every eighty five children survive to celebrate their tenth birthday. These improvements have virtually nothing to do with doctors or drug companies but are almost entirely a result of better living conditions. In 1904 one third of all British schoolchildren were undernourished. Poor diets meant that babies and small children were weak and succumbed easily to diseases. Older children from poor families were expected to survive on a diet of bread and dripping and many women who had to spend long hours working in terrible conditions were unable to breast feed their babies, many of which then died from drinking infected milk or water.

When the improvements in child mortality figures are taken out of the equation it is clear that for adults living in developed countries life expectation has certainly not risen in the way that both doctors and drug companies usually suggest.

Science or A Black Art?

Orthodox medical practitioners like to give the impression that they have conquered sickness with science but there are, at a conservative estimate, something in the region of 18,000 known diseases for which there are still no effective treatments - let alone cures. Even when treatments do exist their efficacy is often in question. A recent report concluded that 85% of medical and surgical treatments have never been properly tested.

As drug companies become increasingly aware that curing serious disease is beyond their capability (and, indeed, their desire - for why should drug companies, which make their money out of people being sick, want to make people well?), they spend more and more effort on finding drugs to improve life or performance in some vague way.

There can be little doubt that a former Director General of the World Health Organization got it absolutely right when he startled the medical establishment by stating that `the major and most expensive part of medical knowledge as applied today appears to be more for the satisfaction of the health professions than for the benefit of the consumers of health care'.

The evidence certainly supports that astonishing and apparently heretical view. Profits, not patients, are now the driving force which rule the medical profession's motives, ambitions and actions. Doctors don't seem to care any more. The passion has gone out of medicine.

In my view the biggest single reason why the medical profession is killing so many people is its alliance with the pharmaceutical industry.

The myth that we live long and healthy lives thanks to the drug industry and the medical profession has increased our expectations. We no longer expect to fall ill. We expect a magic solution when we fall ill. We don't want to be bothered making any effort to stay healthy because we have been taught to have faith that if we fall ill then the medical men will be able to cure us.

It is widely accepted that the majority of illnesses do not need drug treatment. Most patients who visit a doctor neither want nor expect drug treatment. But at least eight out of ten patients who visit a general practitioner will be given a prescription (though growing numbers of patients do not take the drugs that are prescribed for them).

Sicker Than Ever

We aren't living longer than our ancestors and we certainly aren't fitter than them either. We do not live longer or healthier lives than our predecessors. On the contrary although we consume greater and greater quantities of medicine than ever before more of us are ill today than at any time in history. On any day you care to choose in just about any developed country you care to mention over half the population will be taking a drug of some kind. A recent survey of 9,000 Britons concluded that one in three people are suffering from a long standing illness or disability. Other surveys have shown that in any one fourteen day period 95% of the population consider themselves to be unwell for at least a few of those days. At no time in history has illness been so commonplace. We spend more than ever on health care but no one could argue that there is any less suffering in our society.

Quacks And Charlatans

Modern clinicians may use scientific techniques but in the way that they treat their patients they are still quacks and charlatans, loyal to existing and unproven ideas which are profitable and resistant to new techniques and technologies which may be proven and effective.

The fact that a doctor may use a scientific instrument in his work does not make him a scientist - any more than a typist who uses a word processor is a computer scientist. The scientific technology available to doctors may be magnificent but the problem is that the application of the scientific technology is crude, untested and unscientific.

It isn't difficult to find examples illustrating the ineffectiveness of modern medical science.

If doctors used truly scientific methods when treating their patients they would happily use whichever form of treatment seemed to offer their patients the best chance of recovery. And they would use scientific methods to compare the effectiveness of orthodox methods (such as surgery, drugs and radiotherapy) with the effectiveness of unorthodox methods (such as diet).

Doctors do not do this.

When patients recover from cancer while or after receiving orthodox medical therapy (usually one or more of the triumvirate of surgery, drugs or radiotherapy) doctors invariably claim that those patients have got better because of the therapy they have received. And, of course, any patient who survives for five years is said to have been cured. Doctors are always quick to claim the credit when they can.

However, doctors are far more sceptical when patients recover from `alternative' or `non orthodox' remedies. When patients recover from cancer while or after receiving unorthodox therapy (such as a particular type of diet) they are usually said to have recovered `in spite' of the treatment they have received. Patients who get better after unorthodox therapy are said to have been misdiagnosed or to have made an `unexplained and spontaneous recovery'. (No patient in history has ever made an `unexplained and spontaneous recovery' while or after receiving orthodox therapy). Patients who survive for five years after alternative therapy are said to be merely in remission, awaiting a relapse.

And although orthodox doctors are invariably derisive when alternative therapists write about individual patients or describe isolated case histories this is exactly what orthodox doctors themselves do. It is not at all uncommon for medical journals to contain articles and letters based upon experiences with one or maybe two patients. (Incidentally, I agree that these experiences may be valuable. What I object to is the hypocrisy of doctors rejecting anecdotal evidence produced by alternative practitioners.)

The medical establishment always tends to oppose anything new and original which threatens the status quo. When the disorder in question is as serious and as badly treated as cancer this arrogance and reluctance to even consider something new becomes rather close to deceit and professional recklessness. I could put forward a strong case to charge the medical establishment with manslaughter for its continued refusal even to acknowledge or investigate alternative methods of tackling cancer (methods which do not involve drugs, surgery or radiotherapy). The treatment methods offered by doctors are often the only methods patients know about simply because other, less conventional approaches have either been totally suppressed or sneered at and derided so successfully that no one gives them any credence.

Most convincing of all, however, is the fact that practising physicians and surgeons invariably base their own treatment programmes upon their own personal experiences and upon their own (usually completely unscientific) views of what will be best for a particular patient.

For example, despite the availability of clear evidence showing the efficacy of diet, stress control and modest exercise in the treatment (as well as the prevention) of cardiac disease most doctors still insist on treating all their heart patients with either surgery or drug therapy. And despite the existence of other, far more logical options, most doctors still insist that the only way to treat cancer is to attack it from the outside - rather than to help the body heal and protect itself.

If orthodox medicine was truly scientific then patients with the same symptoms would all receive the same treatment. They don't. There are almost as many different treatment programmes on offer as their doctors in practice. If a patient who has been diagnosed as having a particular type of cancer visits three doctors then it's a pretty safe bet that he or she will be offered three quite different types of advice. Many `official' anti cancer programmes, accepted by the medical establishment, can reasonably be described as irrational and illogical. The survival of individual patients sometimes seems to be more a matter of luck than a matter of science. Doctors simply don't understand why when two patients are given a treatment one will die and one will live. It never occurs to them that there may be some other factor involved and that the death of one patient and the survival of the other may be quite unrelated to the medical treatment which was given.

The logical, scientific approach to any problem is always to tackle the cause rather than the symptoms. If your car has a leaky radiator hose it makes far more logical sense to replace the leaky hose than to keep on filling up the radiator with water. If your house roof is leaking it is far more logical to repair the leak than to put out a bucket to catch the drips.

Good doctors do sometimes follow this logical approach.

But there are more bad doctors than good ones.

And when the bad doctor sees a patient with indigestion he or she will simply prescribe an antacid remedy - knowing that it will temporarily relieve the patient's symptoms - and then send the patient away.

In contrast, when a good doctor sees a patient with indigestion he will want to find out what is causing the indigestion. He will investigate the patient's diet and other lifestyle habits in a search for a cause. And he will want to deal with the cause of the symptoms, rather than the symptoms themselves.

Tested And Proven?

Most patients probably assume that when a doctor proposes to use an established treatment to conquer a disease he will be using a treatment which has been tested, examined and proven. But this is not the case.

The British Medical Journal in October 1991 carried an editorial reporting that there are `perhaps 30,000 biomedical journals in the world, and they have grown steadily by 7% a year since the 17th century.' The editorial also reported that: `only about 15% of medical interventions are supported by solid scientific evidence' and `only 1% of the articles in medical journals are scientifically sound'.

What sort of science is that? How can doctors possibly regard themselves as practising a science when six out of seven treatment regimes are unsupported by scientific evidence and when 99% of the articles upon which clinical decisions are based are scientifically unsound?

The tests and investigations which doctors use to help them make diagnoses are also unreliable and the likelihood of a doctor accurately predicting the outcome of a disease is often no more than 50:50.

For example, consider the survey I have already quoted in which two pathologists reported that after carrying out 400 post-mortem examinations they found that in more than half the patients the wrong diagnosis had been made. This presumably also means that in more than half the patients the wrong treatment had been given. And since modern treatments are undeniably powerful it also presumably means that a large proportion of those patients may have died not because of their disease but because of their treatment. The two pathologists reported that potentially treatable disease was missed in one in seven patients. They found that 65 out of 134 cases of pneumonia had gone unrecognised while out of 51 patients who had suffered heart attacks doctors had failed to diagnose the problem in 18 cases.

When Tests And Investigations Need To Be Ignored

There are two main problems associated with tests and investigations.

Sometimes readers are concerned because although tests have identified no abnormalities they feel that something is wrong - and needs treatment.

On other occasions doctors it is not at all as uncommon as it should be for doctors to initiate painful, distressing and potentially harmful treatment programmes because of `false positive' results. (A `false positive' occurs when an investigation suggests that something is wrong when it isn't.) It has always seemed to me that one of the fundamental principles by which any doctor should practise medicine is that it is the patient, not the laboratory test, which should be treated. It is sad that this is often not the case these days.

Tests and investigations can, of course, be helpful. But in my view (and I recognise that this is probably not a widely held view among doctors) it is an abdication of professional responsibility to allow test results to take priority over the patient's symptoms and signs. Perhaps more doctors should have faith in their instincts and judgements.

What Has Happened?

What has happened?

Why has this powerful legacy of scientific thought been allowed to crumble away?

Why has 20th century medicine drifted back towards witchcraft and black arts?

The answer is simple. In the last century the practice of medicine has become no more than an adjunct to the pharmaceutical industry and the other aspects of the huge, powerful and immensely profitable health care industry.

Medicine is no longer an independent profession.

Doctors are no more dedicated to the saving of lives and the improvement of patients welfare than are the thousands of drug company salesmen and marketing men. Doctors have become nothing more than a link connecting the pharmaceutical industry to the consumer.

The end result of this modern tragedy is that patients suffer.

The over prescribing, the unnecessary surgery and the exhausting and endless tests and investigations all weaken patients, damage their immune systems and increase their chances of falling ill.

The Good Old Days Are Over

Back in the middle ages people were reluctant to go into hospital. They knew that they were unlikely to get out alive. Those patients who survived the incompetent ministrations of doctors and nurses were likely to die of infections contracted on the ward.

Things didn't get much better until well into this century when the discovery of anaesthetics, antiseptics and antibiotics gradually meant that patients going into hospital had a reasonable chance of benefiting from the experience.

But those good days are now over.

Medicine has again become a major hazard.

And doctors are again one of the most significant causes of death and ill health.

Should Doctors Carry A Health Warning?

When doctors from the Harvard School of Public Health studied what happened to more than 30,000 patents admitted to acute care hospitals in New York they found that nearly 4% of them suffered unintended injuries in the course of their treatment and that 14% of the patients died of their injuries. This survey concluded that nearly 200,000 people die each year in America as a result of medical accidents. This means that more than four times as many people die from injuries caused by doctors as die in road accidents.

Two Irish doctors recently reported in the British Medical Journal that 20% of British patients who have slightly raised blood pressure are treated unnecessarily with drugs. Two pathologists who carried out 400 post mortem examinations found that in more than 50% of the patients the wrong diagnosis had been made. A British Royal College of Radiologists Working Party reported that at least a fifth of radiological examinations carried out in National Health Service hospitals were clinically unhelpful. In Britain the Institute of Economic Affairs claimed that inexperienced doctors in casualty units kill at least one thousand patients a year.

Doctors now cause more serious illness than cancer or heart disease. One in six patients in hospital are there because they have been made ill by doctors. (If you want to see the evidence for this staggering but nevertheless entirely accurate assertion take a look at my book `Betrayal of Trust' which is published by the European Medical Journal.)

In America, the Public Citizen Health Research Group has shown that `more than 100,000 people are killed or injured a year by negligent medical care'. The real figure is probably considerably higher than this and there can be little doubt that many of the injuries and deaths are caused by simple, straightforward incompetence rather than bad luck or unforseen complications.

Many patients would undoubtedly be surprised (and horrified) to find out how many treatment programmes have never been properly tested, never been shown to be safe and never been shown to work.

Prescribed Drugs Are A Health Hazard

It is when prescribing drugs - or giving vaccines - that I believe doctors do most harm.

According to the `Journal of the American Medical Association' the overall incidence of serious Adverse Drug Reactions is now 6.7% and the incidence of fatal Adverse Drug Reactions is 0.32% of hospitalised patients. JAMA estimates that in 1994 alone 2,216,000 hospitalised patients in the US had serious Adverse Drug Reactions and 106,000 had fatal Adverse Drug Reactions. According to JAMA these figures mean that Adverse Drug Reactions are now between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death in the US. In compiling this data JAMA excluded errors in drug administration, noncompliance, overdose, drug abuse, therapeutic failures and possible Adverse Drug Reactions. Serious Adverse Drug Reactions were defined as those which required treatment in hospital, were permanently disabling or resulted in death.

If drugs were only ever prescribed sensibly and when they were likely to interfere with a potentially life threatening disease then the risks associated with their use would be acceptable. But all the evidence shows that doctors do not understand the hazards associated with the drugs they use and frequently prescribe inappropriately and excessively. Many of the deaths associated with drug use are caused by drugs which did not need to be taken.

It is now widely accepted that at least 40% of all the people who are given prescription medicines to take will suffer uncomfortable, hazardous or potentially lethal side effects.

I say `at least' because, for a variety of reasons, the vast majority of doctors never admit that their patients ever suffer any side effects. In Britain, for example, five out of six doctors have never reported any drug side effects to the authorities - authorities who admit that they receive information on no more than 10 - 15% of even the most serious adverse drug reactions occurring in patients. In other words they admit that they never hear about at least 85 - 90% of all dangerous drug reactions!

Astonishingly, it is even accepted that some doctors will withhold reports of serious adverse reactions and keep their suspicions to themselves in the hope that they may later be able to win fame by publishing their findings in a journal or revealing their discovery to a newspaper or magazine.

Because the real figures about drug hazards are hidden most patients assume that drugs are safe to take, will act in a predictable, effective way and are of recognised quality and standard. None of these assumptions is correct and none of the thousands of the drugs which are available satisfies these criteria. Patients who take drugs are taking a risk; they are often taking part in a massive experiment and by taking a medicine may become worse off than if they had done nothing. To make things worse no one knows exactly how big the risks are when a particular drug is taken. All drugs are potential poisons that may heal or may kill.

The medical profession, the drug industry and the regulatory bodies all accept that the hazards of using any drug will only be known when the drug has been given to large numbers of patients for a considerable period of time.

Astonishingly, despite the hazards associated with their use, drugs are controlled less in their development, manufacture, promotion, sale and supply than virtually any other substance imaginable - with the exception of food.

In an average sort of year in a developed country at least 1 in 250 people will be admitted to hospital because of a drug overdose. One in 50 of them will die. Even more worrying is the fact that every day thousands of people are admitted to hospital not because of an overdose but because a drug taken at prescribed levels has caused serious and possibly life-threatening symptoms. Since doctors rarely admit it when adverse effects occur, the chances are that the real figures are much higher than this.

One of the major reasons for the disastrously high incidence of problems associated with drug use is the fact that the initial clinical trials, performed before a drug is made available for all general practitioners to prescribe for their patients, rarely involve more than a few thousand patients at most. Some initial trials may involve no more than half a dozen patients.

However, it is now well known that severe problems often do not appear either until at least 50,000 patients have taken a drug or until patients have used a drug for many months or even years. Because of this a huge death toll can build up over the years. Drug control authorities admit that when a new drug is launched no one really knows what will happen or what side effects will be identified.

Doctors and drug companies are, it seems, using the public in a constant, ongoing, mass testing programme. And the frightening truth is that far more people are killed as a result of prescription drugs than are killed as a result of using illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

The treatments for many common diseases such as arthritis, backache and allergies such as hay fever and eczema frequently provide inadequate relief and often cause adverse effects which are far worse than the original complaint.

Although the drug industry can be blamed for failing to perform adequate tests on the drugs which they put on the market it is only doctors who can be blamed for overprescribing and for the inappropriate prescribing of drugs.

There are, of course, some occasions when drug therapy can be life saving. Given to the right patient at the right time a course of penicillin tablets can, quite simply, be life saving.

But if drug companies relied upon doctors occasionally prescribing life saving drugs their profits would be unacceptably low. And so drug companies have consistently encouraged doctors to prescribe drugs of doubtful value and questionable safety to vast numbers of patients.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2003