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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Concern over pharmaceutical company links of Tory peer leading patient safety review

Written by Richard Wheeler, Elizabeth Arnold and Jon Vale

A Tory peer's links with pharmaceutical companies have been questioned in the Commons after she was chosen to lead a review into NHS patient concerns.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had "every confidence" that Baroness Julia Cumberlege will do a good job in examining how the health service responds to safety concerns in light of campaigns over vaginal mesh, sodium valproate and the hormone pregnancy test drug Primodos.

But Independent MP Ivan Lewis, a former Labour minister, said victims are "incredibly suspicious" of the health establishment and highlighted Lady Cumberlege's directorship of a company which "specialises in introducing pharmaceutical companies into how they can most effectively lobby Parliament".

He questioned how victims of health scandals will view this.

Conservative former minister Sir Mike Penning also said he believed Lady Cumberlege will have "both hands tied behind her back" after raising concerns about how scientific evidence has been treated when examining Primodos, which has been blamed for causing serious birth defects.

SNP Martyn Day ( Linlithgow and East Falkirk) added some of those affected will be "somewhat sceptical that the Government may have today just announced a review of reviews", warning: "Everyone needs the confidence that this won't turn into simply a Government whitewash."

Mr Hunt said the review will focus on Primodos, Sodium valproate - an anti-epilepsy drug which has been linked to autism and learning disabilities in children when taken during pregnancy and vaginal mesh implants, which Mr Hunt said had sometimes resulted in "crippling, life changing side effects" for patients.

The Health Secretary said he wanted to create a "fairer, quicker and more compassionate way of addressing issues when they arise".

As backbench MPs raised questions, Mr Lewis told Mr Hunt: "Are you not concerned, and I ask this sincerely, that Baroness Cumberlege is a director of a company which specialises in introducing pharmaceutical companies into how they can most effectively lobby Parliament?

"What will that do to victims who start off being incredibly suspicious of ourselves in this House and the NHS establishment?"

Mr Hunt replied: "I don't think anyone has a better track record than Baroness Cumberlege in campaigning for women's health issues and she has shown in her career absolute willingness to take on the medical establishment and scientific establishment when she thinks it's the right thing to do.

"She does it with a great deal of knowledge and a huge amount of passion so I have every confidence she will do a good job."

Tory MP Sir Mike also said: "There will be huge disappointment from the Primodos campaign team. Being led by the science from the expert working group is fascinating because they refused to allow some science to come forward because it hadn't been peer-reviewed and accepted a load of other evidence from the drug companies that did.

"This review going back to the Department of Health, which is fully implicated in this in that these drugs were given out by GPs in GP surgeries without prescription, will give no confidence at all.

"So while the Baroness is doing her work, I think she'll have both hands tied behind her back."

Mr Hunt said he disagreed with Sir Mike, adding it was a "very important step forward" with the science leading things.

Tory chairwoman of the health select committee Sarah Wollaston earlier said many of those coming forward were harmed within the private sector.

She asked for confirmation from Mr Hunt that patients wherever they were treated would be included within the review and that there would be a focus on clinical governance within the private sector as well as the NHS.

Mr Hunt said he could "absolutely give that assurance".

Tory former health minister George Freeman said it was important "this isn't some legal witch hunt, it must start by being a review of the evidence, the science, the clinical data in order to make sure that we avoid any future patients suffering".

He added: "If it's couched in legal liability everyone will draw in and resist the sharing of evidence which is so key."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) NHS England.