Monthly Archives: September 2009

How the pleasure of youth quickly turns to the pain of old age. It looks as though Amgen has now completed its transition away from a fast-growing and spritely West Coast biotech business to a global pharma giant.Before, it stressed its focus to breakthrough new drugs. But at the European Health Forum in Gastein this week, it has sponsored a session on “discovering new indications for approved medicines” – the sort of “lifecycle management” that is distinctly “old pharma” not “new biotech”.

Read the FT Healthcare & the Recovery special report published Septenber 30, 2009

Read the FT Healthcare and the Recovery report 

• Political interests and lobbying vie with economic pressures
• After a decade of growth, austerity looms in the NHS
• The financial crisis is redefining the Gates Foundation’s priorities

Margaret McCartney

The UK General Medical Council has today published new guidance on conifdentiality for doctors. From reading press reports over the weekend, I had thought that there had been dramatic changes. But having read it, I realise this is not so.

The right to confidentiality has never been absolute, but there has never been any doubt that breaking it can only be done in specific circumstances where the danger to others or the public is high enough to justify it.

One example is driving. If someone is medically unfit to drive, and persists in doing so despite advice to the contrary, the doctor should inform others. In practice this is made easier by the DVLA, who have clear guidance on what to do. In many cases, when the doctor tells the patient that they must report their driving against advice to the DVLA, the patient agrees to tell them him/herself.

By Ross Tieman

French news magazine Le Point has published its third annual ranking of the “best” hospitals in France.

The survey raises interesting questions that go beyond whether a patient in Nice would do best to jump on the high-speed train to Lille to get his or her stomach complaint sorted out.

What is the purpose of such rankings, are they an effective barometer of hospital competence, and what effect might they have on the quality of care hospitals provide?

Margaret McCartney

Uncaring, slapdash staff; patients left in pools of vomit or faeces; falls resulting in cranial bleeds, despite the supervision of nurses. The Patients Association’s recent dossier of nasty nurses is scary stuff, and it has made hearts sink all over the National Health Service.

The Patients Association is unusual for a charity in that it seems purely devoted to criticising the NHS. As anyone who has ever had a professional appraisal will know, there is useful, constructive criticism, and then there is another kind, which pours scorn without offering solutions.

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Margaret McCartney

In terms of information for parents, this trial from the Oxford Vaccine Group looks quite good: Swine Flu (Novel Influenza A H1N1) Vaccine Study for parents and children, except I can’t see a note that they have registered the trial at on their website. However, they clearly have –  it is registered here on the International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number Register

It’s a head-to-head trial of two vaccines, their side effects and their antibody response. The one by Baxter is called Celvapan, but GlaxoSmithKline has gone for Pandemrix, which really is a terrible name.

This trial is presumably to help the government choose a vaccine supplier: the trial may not, though, be able to add to the evidence for or against vaccination at all: see my previous interview with Dr Tom Jefferson

Andrew Jack, pharmaceuticals correspondent, considers the commercial implications

Scientists on Thursday announced a breakthrough in the search for a vaccine for HIV/Aids after a testing programme in Thailand found that an experimental drug had cut the risk of infection by 31 per cent.

Read full FT coverage on

By Rebecca Knight

This just in from the department of…Who knew?

Reading a book by Franz Kafka or watching a movie by director David Lynch just might make you smarter.

According to researchers at UC Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia, exposure to the surrealism in, say, Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” enhances the cognitive mechanisms that oversee implicit learning functions.

Margaret McCartney

There are many doctors who decry “the media” and the misreprestations published about medical research.

And sure, it was inaccuracies in reporting problems with screening almost a decade ago that motivated me to write about it myself.

Since then, thousands of press releases have passed through my inbox. It is easy and entertaining enough to deal with the more commercial of the medical research hype offering products that claim to cure just about anything.

It is a bit less easy to go through press releases from medical journals, sometimes because the full paper is not available, sometimes because the language is dense and the statistics difficult. But they deserve critical attention. The quality of press releases from medical journals and academic institutions has become an increasing source of concern: far from these institutions being immune to hype, they are prey to it. 

The Lancet put out a press release about hormone replacement therapy last week: “Hormone replacement therapy increases risk of death from lung cancer“. I have an interest in HRT, so I read on.

Health and science blog (Archived)

This blog, part of the FT's health series, is a forum for readers interested in the science, policy, management, technology, business and delivery of healthcare.

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

About our regular bloggers

Margaret McCartney is a Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist. She started writing for the Life and Arts section in 2005 and moved to the magazine in 2008. She also has her own blog:

Clive Cookson has been a science journalist for the whole of his working life. He joined the FT in 1987. Clive, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education.

Andrew Jack is pharmaceuticals correspondent, covering the industry and public health issues. He has been a journalist with the FT for 19 years, based in London, Paris and Moscow