The Truth about the National Poisons Unit

The National Poisons Unit at Guy's Hospital London was highly respected for its work and expertise but there are now serious doubts in respect to its independence and the integrity of the staff.

Written requests to the Government departments responsible have failed to obtain any acknowledgement of, or answers to, serious questions which have been raised over the allegiances of the staff.

Reports suggest that not only is a laboratory at the unit financed by a chemical company but also that toxicologists and psychiatrists may actually be employed by the chemical companies directly and then sub-contracted to the unit.

We need to know if this is true only for the Guy's NPU or if it is standard practice throughout the National Health Service but despite repeated written efforts the Government refuses to confirm or deny these reports.

If there was no cause for concern there is no doubt that quick explanations would be issued by Ministers.

The secrecy ensures suspicion.

Some may wonder why this issue is raised but it is of vital importance.
The National Poisons Unit is pivotal in the recognition, treatment and monitoring system which is essential if the health of the population is to be protected.

All areas of the United Kingdom have local poisons units to which doctors are referred when advice is needed for patient diagnosis and treatment. These were listed in 1996 as being in Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London and in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

In 1984 there was a considerably greater number of centres to where blood and urine samples could be taken for analysis, with 49 in England, 12 in Wales, 12 in Scotland and 2 in Northern Ireland.

In addition the centres which could dispense the antidote pralidoxime were also listed in 1984 and there were 60 in England, 8 in Wales, 10 in Scotland and 4 in Northern Ireland. These suppliers are no longer listed in published papers given to General Practitioners who must now contact their nearest Poisons Unit.

Incidents and enquiries to all the Poisons units are referred to the National Poisons Information Service in London and the Scottish Poisons Information Bureau and from there they become part of the statistics used to monitor the post marketing safety of pesticides.

In fact the Pesticides Safety Directorate use the information so obtained when they produce the Evaluation Documents on individual active ingredients.

A picture builds then of the importance of the London Poisons Unit and why there is a real need to ensure that what decisions are made by that unit are accurate and based entirely on independent opinions.
Why then would the Government choose to employ staff with allegiances to the very companies who may manufacture the toxic chemicals suspected as poisoning the patients referred to them?

There have been some horrific stories told by poisoned individuals who have found themselves referred to the London NPU.
Few have been reported in the National Press and most suffer in silence.

What is clear is that there are tests available at the unit which have been devised to determine if an individual has been poisoned.
Those tests are specific for each poison and may involve the testing of samples of blood or urine or of both depending on the poison.
It is not possible for an individual to refer themselves to the unit. This must be done through a doctor so this means that either the poisoning is obvious, for example as the result of a suicide attempt, or the doctor must have very good reason to suspect poisoning, often having eliminated any other possible diagnosis.

Diagnosis of poisoning is not always easy because all poisons attack the vital body systems in ways often closely simulated by the symptoms of natural disease. Food poisoning can produce similar symptoms to those of chemical poisoning and this has often resulted in misdiagnosis when food has been laced with poison, either by accident or with intent.

Some poisons destroy body tissues, some are irritants, some are systemic poisons which enter the body and attack the nervous system or other internal organs, some poison by the vapours they release and others are naturally present in certain foods or their contaminants.

Whilst it is important that natural disease should not be mistaken for poisoning the safety of the entire population depends on the accurate diagnosis of poisoning in those individuals adversely affected by cumulatively poisonous chemicals of man-made origin.

The diagnosis of poisoning follows recognised steps and is dependent on several factors:-
1. There is evidence that the patient has been exposed to a known poison.
2. That the symptoms presented by the patient are similar to others poisoned by the same chemical.
3. That the body fluids exhibit either the presence of the poison or an indication that poisoning has occurred.
4. With nerve poisons certain other tests may be available.
5. On death post-mortem signs and analysis may also confirm poisoning.

However with some poisons things are not as simple as this since most poisons mimic natural disease patterns and their effects will depend upon several factors:
the amount taken,
tolerance built up in regular users,
the individual's genetic susceptibility to the poison,
age and general state of health,
the condition of the poison and the route of absorption,
the combined effects of two or more chemical exposures,
and any considerations necessary to account for cumulative effects.

The latter because it is recognised that repeated small exposures can also result in poisoning.

The victim of poisoning may not know which chemical had been used and may have been exposed over a long period of time to a wide variety of different poisons with different modes of action.

Professional users may have kept detailed records of the chemicals used over periods of many years. This should assist the NPU in their attempts at diagnosis but this does not appear to be what happens in practice.

Before a patient even begins the expensive series of tests devised by the NPU and others for organophosphorus poisoning they must be examined and their details assessed to ensure that it is possible that they have indeed been poisoned.

Already the "balance of probabilities" favours poisoning since most other possible causes of the symptoms have been eliminated. Professional users poisoned by the chemicals used in their work can often provide a full list of extremely toxic pesticides to which they have been regularly exposed. Strangely the poisons unit will only examine those notes but it seems they will not take that exposure history into account when determining a poisoning diagnosis.
It would seem that they limit their deliberations to the final exposure which resulted in the patient being unable to work and do not consider the cumulative or the synergistic combined effects of the long-term, exposures.

The patients are likely to be given a long list of symptoms and instructed to indicate which symptoms they have experienced in recent times. This too is not as innocent as it would seem.
Sick people obviously experience more symptoms that those in good health and yet, with these forms intending to remind the patient of all the symptoms suffered with the request to mark all those actually experienced, the patient will then be accused of "over-reporting symptoms in comparison with non-poisoned patients".

Strangely it seems to be of no importance what symptoms are reported by the patient since it will not alter the refusal to diagnose poisoning cases.
One patient reported all the classic symptoms of OP poisoning to the Unit but was apparently told that they would not diagnose the condition as poisoning because the symptoms matched so closely with those recognised that the patient must have read them from a book and simply repeated them.
Another was admitted to have all the symptoms but they claimed to be unable to give a diagnosis and instead suggested that they "might be able to in two years' time".
Another pointed out that all the symptoms experienced were listed in the Government's own advice leaflets on Poisoning only to be told that they were in the process of re-writing the leaflet. The suggestion that a similar cover-up took place over the links with radiation and leukaemia brought the astonishing claims that radiation was safe, that the eye was not a route into the body for OPs and that eating OPs did not represent a risk to health. All these claims are untrue.
In yet another case the patient was so ill that the symptoms suffered could not be recalled in the detail said to be required. It was apparently claimed that the patient could not be diagnosed as having been poisoned because the symptom list was incomplete and therefore the patient did not exhibit the full range of OP symptoms.
Most bizarrely a patient determined to ensure that the poisons unit should diagnose the condition on the basis of their own investigations refused to list the symptoms but was also denied a diagnosis of poisoning. The reasons said to have been given were that "the symptoms reported were not those of OP poisoning".

It is plain therefore that the symptoms suffered by the patient are not used to determine the diagnosis given by the poisons unit.

The patient will be subjected to blood and urine tests and will assume that the Poisons Unit will apply the correct methods when testing the samples. That assumption may well be wrong!

The majority of the population have an organochlorine pesticide in their bodies and yet those who have been poisoned by those very chemicals have found that Poisons Unit tests "are unable to find" any trace of the chemical.
Others, poisoned by organophosphate pesticides, have discovered that the NPU did not use the correct tests for OPs but instead tested for those very organochlorines - and again found not a trace.

It is clear that blood and urine test results do not seem to play an important role in diagnosis at the poisons unit.

Many patients have exhibited neurological signs and symptoms and various tests are employed in attempts to measure any changes from the normal found in the general population. There are a variety of tests ranging from nerve conduction tests to brain scans and optical tests which can determine if the central, peripheral or autonomic nervous systems of the patient have been damaged. There are also brain function tests designed to determine any changes or malfunctions in memory or mental dexterity.
Some patients have been through the raft of tests designed to determine damage in all of these important areas with results that show brain, nerve and autonomic system damage but still they have not been diagnosed by the NPU as having been poisoned.

Proven neurological damage by nerve poisons obviously plays no part in diagnosis by the poisons unit.

Most of the patients will be living in discomfort, sensitised to pesticides at low levels and other products containing solvents. As a result they and their families will be leading greatly restricted lives - but they are still alive and so the other means of diagnosis, that of post-mortem sampling, is not available.

That does not stop the poisons unit who will perform muscle biopsies to extract tissue samples from the patient in painful operations.
Some researchers, for this is what they are, will even perform bone biopsies on OP victims in attempts to prove what is already known - that OPs can interfere with bone regeneration and lead to the slow destruction of the patients' skeleton.
Be it muscle or bone biopsy the results commonly claim that "insufficient sample" was available to perform the correct tests and so once again a diagnosis of poisoning is not made.

Tissue samples also play no role in diagnosis then at the poisons unit.

The observant will notice that every method traditionally used to determine a poisoning diagnosis has been discounted.

There is one other medical profession so far not encountered in our list and that is the psychiatrist.

The patient will find that the psychiatrist will ask questions about a lifetime in attempts to determine attitudes to life and its problems.
A questionnaire issued to all patients referred to the Poisons Unit in London in the mid-90s was later withdrawn by them because of protests by some of its victims.
Some of the patients were astounded at the types of questions asked such as "Did you ever set fires?", "Do you dress in a sexy manner?", "Do you believe in UFOs?" and some 110 varieties on similar lines.
Some found it extraordinary that only "yes" or "no" answers were expected to what were complex and poorly written questions.
Some thought that the writer of the questionnaire required the services of a psychiatrist.
Again the questions were not so innocent.
The psychiatrist conjured up a book with further questions indicating that each "yes" answer suggesed a character flaw.
The reason for this questionnaire is plain. This was an attempt to explain the symptoms as the signs of a mental disorder.

Poisoners throughout history have attempted to make their victims believe that the symptoms that they suffer are "imagined".

This is usually successful until the post-mortem performed by honest men.
Sadly with OP poisoning such post-mortems are unlikely to aid diagnosis because the chemicals are designed to disappear rapidly within the normally unsampled tissues of the body.

Few patients go through this trial by testing and actually obtain a supportive diagnosis from the poisons unit whose staff have difficulty answering questions about how many cases of poisoning they have actually confirmed.
Sadly some of the treatments advised by the Poisons Unit have not helped the victims and some have been seen to be extremely harmful.
Some patients have reportedly been subjected to electrode treatments designed to alter the functions of the brain.
Some have been referred to psychiatric hospitals and been subjected to deleterious drug treatments.
Others have been given antidepressants which often only serve to worsen the condition.
The lucky ones are perhaps those who are abandoned to their fate and left to find their own means of coping with their chemically induced disabilities.

A few cases do have some success however but once again all is not as it seems at the Poisons Unit.

Several patients have been given a diagnosis by the Poisons Unit confirming that the health problems experienced began as the result of poisoning. Interestingly the diagnosis has then been retracted at a later date with no explanations or reasons given and often with no change in medical evidence. One such case was reported as being recorded on tape so that reporters were able to hear the diagnosis being given but still the retractions came.
Another case involved the surprising production of two letters written on the same day and signed by the same senior member of the poisons unit staff. The doctor wrote in one of the letters that he supported the diagnosis of chronic OP poisoning, as given by the patient's own doctor, because despite all the tests done by the unit they were unable to offer an alternative diagnosis which could explain the symptoms.
In the other letter, written directly to the patient's Doctor on the same day, he wrote that he wished to withdraw the diagnosis.

What is interesting is the reasons why the second letter was written.
It was claimed to be the result of an Ombudsman's investigation but the patient later discovered that it was not the Poisons Unit which was under investigation but another Government Agency, the Health & Safety Executive which had failed to properly investigate the patient's case.

Another and perhaps more sinister reason for the change of opinion soon came to light in this case as the retraction of the diagnosis came just days after the patient served a writ in the High Court against the company which caused the exposure.

Strangely the senior Poisons Unit doctor both confirmed and denied that diagnosis on several occasions after that date. Complaints to the Health Ombudsman about the conduct of the Hospital which refuses to this day to release the promised full copies of the medical notes pertaining to the testing period at the Poisons Unit were upheld.
The senior doctor remains in his position.

Medical records obtained by the patient prove that all is not as it seems at the unit and there is evidence that records have been falsified, dates of tests altered and opinions deliberately weighed against the patient.

Of some considerable concern is the part played by a doctor who was influential over the tests performed and the diagnostic reports on the results of those tests. Reports suggest that he later returned to his normal work at the US nerve gas centre at Fort Detrick.

Recently newspaper reports demonstrated that the falsifying of results at the Poisons Unit is more common that any victim would imagine.
The Poisons Unit director who wrote those contradictory letters stated that :-
"We refute any suggestion that test results have been falsified.
The Unit has nothing to hide and will investigate any concerns with the consent of individual patients.
It is common for the N.H.S [National Health Service] to form partnerships with private companies and these are covered by strict guidelines.
We have received no direct funding for any aspect of work related to organophosphorous pesticides."

Reports suggest that the psychiatrist is employed by a chemical company and that the laboratory used by the Unit is funded at least in part by that same company. It is also reported that a senior toxicologist at the Unit is employed by the parent company which spawned that same chemical company.

At least one of the victims reported above was poisoned by a chemical developed and manufactured by those companies.

Would you trust your child's life or your own in these hands?

Dated 16/9/2000

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