11th September 2002
For the Attention of Ben Cole
Health Protection Consultation, Area 601a,
Department of Health
80 London Road
London SE1 6LH
Dear Mr Cole,
I have been asked to comment on this proposal. In my experience few issues are satisfactorily addressed by yes or no answers and so I have only completed the first page of Annex C. This may mean that my comments will be ignored, just as scientific comments from sources not approved by decision makers are ignored, but my comments here are made as the result of years spent testing the honesty of the system.
General comments Although the paper suggests that the Government proposes to create an agency to “provide support for health protection and health emergency planning” it would seem that there could be other reasons for the formation of a single body. In fact I imagined that we already had an overall controlling body which liaised with all the named organisations and that it was called the Department of Health.
Whilst claiming that the intention is “to provide specialist support for health protection (including control and prevention of infectious disease, radiological protection, and protection against chemical and poisonous hazards) and health emergency planning” it is clear that all these services involve issues where there has been serious controversy and even disagreement in the scientific community.
I have not seen the document referred to as Getting Ahead of the Curve and so I am unable to comment on that but it is clear that the “specialist support” mentioned in relation to these serious health concerns has been shown to be seriously lacking in the past. There is little or no long-term study or follow-up treatment in many of the areas covered by the proposed agency and as a result much of the data upon which it will rely will inevitably be inaccurate at best, and probably, grossly misleading.
Failure to protect health
Effective arrangements for health emergency planning and health protection come by using foresight to prevent the fires of disaster from igniting and not by racing to the fire with extinguishers after the damage is done. Currently the authorities are engaged in the latter, which carries greater costs.
A single unified agency will not change this unfortunate situation, especially if the agency is formed from individuals who have contributed to the mess in which we are currently enmeshed.
There is little doubt that there are new and continuing threats from infectious diseases and environmental hazards, but I would question the statement suggesting that there are “growing public expectations of protection against these risks at home and abroad.”. Public expectation that they should be protected from such risks has always been there and was enshrined in International Law. For example even in 1939 the regulations in respect to cross-border trade in Food, Cosmetics and Consumer products outlawed the inclusion of poisons but changes since that time actually permit the use of known poisons even in the food supply. Consumers are regularly voicing their concerns but they are arrogantly ignored by those responsible for protecting their health and safety.
The farming community regularly and forcefully called for greater controls to prevent the import of diseases that have been eradicated at great cost in this country and they too were ignored.
The result was inevitable, and we are still recovering from the Foot and Mouth Disease disaster, but the same threats are still present both for that disease and more deadly diseases such as Rabies and Ebola.
The cross-border and even global contamination from radiological activities has been totally overlooked and other nations are already condemning the UK for the intentional radioactive pollution caused both by weapons testing and processing and yet much is made of the accidental disaster caused by Chernobyl.
Scientist warned of the radiation risks in the early days of the nuclear industry but they were ignored and now we have to ensure that grain imports from Eastern Europe are certified to be free of radioactivity.
Scientists requested that the last samples of smallpox were destroyed many years ago but the authorities chose not only to hold stocks but also to experiment with them. Now we have the threat of its use as a biological weapon and the potential for the need for mass vaccination against a defeated disease that may not even be effective against the strain used for weapons of war.
The public expected to be told the truth about these risks and to be protected from them but the authorities misled them and they are still being misled to this day as we pay to have dangerous pesticides removed from water supplies and pay still more to prevent catastrophe in the nuclear industry.
The consultation document states that Public Health encompasses the prevention of illness or injury, and not just to offer treatment when a problem occurs but it is not happening now and these changes are unlikely to make it happen in the future unless radical changes in attitude are achieved.
The immunisation programmes are referred to as having protected the health of the population but the changes in the technology involved that may in fact be endangering the very same population are not mentioned. It is of interest that in correspondence the Department of Health immunisation team refused to confirm or deny for example that the MMR vaccine has been genetically engineered.
Genetic Engineering is at best an experimental technique because we do not yet fully understand all the inter-reactions between the processes involved. The need for the “markers” needed to show the researchers that the gene splice has implanted successfully and the unpredictability of the resulting changes provide evidence in support of this view.
Children are our future and we should not be using them for experimentation.
Life on Earth evolved slowly over millions of years to form the delicate inter-dependent environment we were lucky enough to inherit. Only in the last century has man gained the capability to know about such marvels as DNA and yet, despite our lack of knowledge, we think we have the right to control all life on Earth and to alter it, not to the advantage of the Earth, but for profit. We cannot even be sure that the DNA changes that are being linked to the cause of human illness are not themselves induced by environmental factors such as radiation or exposure to toxins.
At this point I would like to point out that I am not a “crazed Green” but I spent my life on conventional agricultural holdings in attempts to help feed the world. Only when an illegal mixture of two organophosphorus pesticides and their solvents poisoned me did I begin to examine the claims made about their safety by the authorities. It soon became clear that the claimed knowledge about chemical safety is far short of that necessary for the protection of our health.
If we cannot trust the authorities to know the full facts about chemicals and mixtures of the same how on Earth can we believe them when they claim to know all there is needed to know about the processes of life itself – knowledge that is essential before we dare to alter things we do not fully understand?
Communicable disease control may well “extend beyond infectious disease” but the problems resulting from the disposal of animal carcasses following the outbreak of BSE and of foot and mouth disease demonstrate that many risks to the environment were completely overlooked at the planning stage.
Had effective import controls been enforced prior to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease and proper risk assessments been performed before changing the methods used which resulted in BSE then I would suggest that neither costly exercise would have been necessary.
It is no use claiming that such problems were not foreseeable because warnings that just such problems might arise had already been issued to the authorities.
Before BSE it was clear that TSEs could be transmitted by contaminated hormone injections, and be caused by other means, and government warnings had been issued for decades on the dangers of importing meat which might carry infections.
Despite prior warnings there was no improvement in the measures necessary to prevent disaster.
Failures to meet accepted standards
Another example of failure is that information given to doctors and farmers alike about the dangers of the organophosphorus insecticides have actually been weakened during the latter half of the last century.
This is hardly the best way to protect the health of the population.
The National Poisons Information Service has been reported as failing to be able to provide sufficient data on the number of poisoning cases and there still appears to be no effort made to improve the diagnostic procedures, treatments and long-term monitoring of those who have been poisoned.
In fact reports suggest that these units are no longer permitted to diagnose chronic poisoning cases for fear of the adverse effects on the profitability of major companies and the economy.
The suggestion that the new agency should “institute modern criteria for case definition” is another indication that the lessons learned from the past are being unlearned and that sound scientific work done by independent researchers is now being undermined by those with vested interests. An example is the gradual weakening and the uncertainties currently seen in the HSE’s Medical series 17 leaflet giving advice on organophosphorus poisoning. Humans have not changed but the recognised effects of poisoning on humans appear to have lessened with each new version under the influence of the new “sound science” which is increasingly at odds with itself issuing confusing and contradictory reports at regular intervals.
These inadequacies are found with all the risks covered by the consultation document and members of one poisons unit actually informed me that radiation was “safe” in 1993.
At this time the Russian scientist were trying to play down the risks resulting from the Chernobyl disaster but I have no doubt that our scientist knew better than to agree with them.
Even potential terrorist acts are not always handled correctly.
A lady contaminated in a “white powder” incident here in the UK after September 11th 2001 was informed that it was not urgent to determine the substance to which she was exposed because she was no-one of importance and yet she was forced to wash in bleach as a precaution in case the powder had been anthrax.
In another case a man, contaminated by plutonium seemingly from an unlawful action still under investigation, was actually accused of contaminating himself deliberately but no reasons were given as to how the victim, who had no links to the industry, could have obtained such dangerous and well-guarded material.
We worry about potential bio-terrorism and nuclear-terrorism but fail to bring scientists to book who have experimented on our own people without their permission in the name of “defence”.
With attitudes such as these there is no confidence in the current service on offer.
It is suggested that there should be support for the provision of services at local level but this too is simply a reversal of policy. In 1984 government documents listed no less than74 centres across the UK that were capable of testing samples in order to determine poisoning by pesticides and no less than 82 holders of pralidoxime an antidote to OP poisoning but in 1996 just 7 were listed as poison centres to whom GPs were directed for advice. Even then the assumed clinical care “for patients who have, or may have, taken toxic substances” is not necessarily as forthcoming as the document suggests.
If the new agency is to “provide training and development in health protection functions” but is led by individuals who do not believe that members of the public can be adversely affected by chemicals, radiation or vaccines then their views will almost certainly be embraced by their students and the standards of care and protection will inevitably fall over time as it has in recent decades.
Having spent that period reducing “surge capacity” in the form of bed space and the closure of so many hospital units it would seem that to renew such capacity is again a reversal of failed policies. The public has disproved of these actions, sometimes in the most forceful ways, and yet successive governments have cut the service repeatedly to a point where crisis is frequent and hospitals are no longer capable of coping with relatively minor incidents in involving large casualty numbers.
There is a serious disadvantage in having one single co-ordinating point for microbiology and chemical incidents and that is that in the event of terrorist action or worse the entire system will fail if that central point is targeted. Surely many local centres would be a safer way forward.
Conflict of interest
If the agency is to be allowed to act for commercial customers as well as for customers within government and the devolved administrations there must be an effective safeguard in place to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. It is all too easy to see a scenario where work done by the agency could endanger the profitability of one of its commercial customers and the temptation to hide potentially damaging information that would cause the loss of that commercial income may well be too great.
Not only do the existing bodies have the power to charge for services but it is already clear that such conflicts have occurred already and that many of the staff employed by the current bodies have direct links with commercial organisations. If there really is an intention to improve health protection then this must be changed so that there is no question that the information given is not coming from the standpoint of those who would benefit financially from any decisions made. This is especially important if all the various current bodies are to be amalgamated under one umbrella agency.
A health protection agency should not have commercial interests in businesses into which they may have to investigate on a matter of public protection.
It is said that most of the functions proposed for the agency are carried out by bodies at arm’s length from government and that this helps to ensure that the scientific advice provided is impartial but this can only be true if the agency is also at arms length from the companies who lobby government, provide funding for research and education, and who even help fund election campaigns.
Government should represent the voice and interests of the people, not an employed arm of industry.
Health protection agencies should also act in the interests of the people and not those of industry.
Open government is a good ideal but it is clear that the openness proclaimed in theory has not yet become a part of actual practice. It is still almost impossible to get information out of some agencies of government and even when we do manage that feat the information given often misses the points raised completely or false information is supplied. It is a matter of record that when one agency was approached for information those involved with the correspondence invoked a rarely used exemption in order to avoid giving the required information. When another overseeing body was asked for the meaning of that same exemption they invoked a second exemption in order to avoid giving that explanation – is that openness?
The Food Standards Agency is put forward as an example of openness by the consultation document but there too it seems that there is true openness only when the release of information does not harm the chosen path or policy position on safety matters.
Compare that agency’s stance on chemicals such as glyphosate and Genetically Modified crops, despite the mounting evidence actually supporting the concerns of the public, with the same agency’s attempts to ban haggis because of a theoretical chance of BSE, which has never been found in sheep.
Again the FSA’s support for pesticides and the false claims that organic products are no different compares unfavourably with their concerns over the levels of the cancer causing chemical acrylamide which scientists tell us is derived from the very pesticides supported by the FSA.
This Agency was also formed from personnel found in existing departments so it may even be an indication of how not to form the new health protection force.
It is good to see that arrangements are made to protect the staff working for the Agency and to provide superannuation, injury benefits and compensation. What a pity it is that the existing agencies do not recognise the rights to such benefits when injury has been caused to members of the public by the failure of those currently responsible for public protection.
I wonder if this is fair, proportionate, or desirable?
The consultation document states that views would be welcomed on “whether there are any other rights or freedoms which those who hold them might reasonably expect to continue to enjoy”.
It must be said that although related rights and freedoms are enshrined in law those rights and freedoms are not enforceable because there are convenient escape clauses for the various bodies involved.
For example there are “Rights” of access for medical records and personal data, there are “Human Rights”, “Rights” to proper medical treatment, “Rights” to access to the law, and a host of other “Rights” but in reality those whose rights have been abused by the agencies of government find that those “Rights” are not enforceable unless the victim has financial security or influence.
If the new Agency is formed the “Rights” claimed should be enshrined in law with no escape clauses for use by those who would hide the truth. This is all the more important if a single Agency will control all health matters and research since the medical records will be accessed without the knowledge of the individual and “mistakes” or confused files can become part of, and therefore render inaccurate and unreliable, national safety statistics.
Currently the responsible agencies are not fully accountable and flawed information can be published without the knowledge or permission of those from whom the data has been obtained.
It is impossible to have errors on file removed or corrected and that is both wrong and dangerous.
If there will be a reduction in burdens affecting the Parliamentary and Health Service Commissioners, and the National Audit Office and Audit Commission then there must be an effective means to achieve true accountability should the agency or its officers abuse the rights of individuals or the public at large.
The new agency must not be capable of making changes to its own rules, activities and powers without proper consultation with the people it will supposedly protect, and Parliament.
Are ministers the correct people to decide on Regulatory Reform on such important matters? It is clear that they are only acting on advice given to them and often have no more particular expertise than the public at large. Nor can they rely on information given to them by civil servants.
I am old enough to recall when nuclear power was said to be entirely safe and would provide us with free electricity forever and when ministers actually ate DDT to demonstrate its safety in a manner similar to the minister who attempted to use his child to demonstrate the safety of beef.
It seems that such actions are designed to promote current policy rather than the proclaimed “sound science” upon which policy is said to rely.
What if individuals with vested interests mislead the minister by promoting a commercially favourable line, which may not actually be in the public interest? Is it desirable, or in our best interests, to have all these risk factors controlled by one agency?
Surely a single agency is more vulnerable to influence by vested interests than is a group of interacting but independently accountable bodies?
Even at this time it is obvious, and proven, that false information by one agency can be assimilated into the data of others as if it is factual. The assumption is that there is no external influence but the reality is that influence from individuals is seen at work in many seemingly unrelated departments. If the entire group is controlled by one agency this situation can only worsen. This is indicated by the phrase which suggests, “provisions in the Order should be designated “subordinate provisions”, to allow them to be changed if necessary by less elaborate Parliamentary procedures in future.” This indicates that accountability will also be reduced and that Parliament will no longer have total control over decisions made.
Care must be taken to ensure that any single agency if formed is independent and adheres to the highest possible standards. It must not be influenced by any other factors than the protection of health.
Dated 11/09/02 - Uploaded to website 04/03/2015
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