Memory Hole (11 November): UK Government hides clinically relevant science

Scientific Misconduct Blog Memory Hole: Events of November 11th

7 years ago today: UK government hides clinically relevant science

On 11 November 2000 a BBC report indicated a deliberate attempt by the UK Department of Health to hide science and to mislead the public and doctors - a case of scientific misconduct perpetrated by government.

If there was scientific evidence relating to potential transfer of mad cow disease (vCJD) through improperly cleaned surgical instruments would you want your doctor to know? According to a report by BBC Panorama the UK government tried to hide a scientific report that it didn't like. The report suggested that there is a real risk of spreading vCJD via surgical instruments. The report also revealed serious flaws in hospitals' equipment cleaning procedures.

Kate Priestley, Chief Executive of NHS Estates NHS Estates (an executive agency of the Department of Health) ordered microbiologist David Hurrell to destroy all copies of the report "It asked me to destroy or return all the copies of the reports and draft reports and data that I had got and to delete all electronic files." Here is a letter:

BBC Panorama stated "A senior expert on hospital decontamination methods has told Panorama how he was asked to destroy all evidence of a government-commissioned study into standards of decontamination in English hospitals."

The letter read: "In light of the somewhat negative outcome... there is a need to ensure, at the express request of ministers, that the final version and earlier draft reports remain strictly confidential." The benefits of the study "may be compromised if the findings of the report were to enter the public domain in an inappropriate or unauthorised fashion".

Professor Michael Banner who led the team of experts was not allowed to see part of the decontamination report either. Banner says, "It's really quite absurd and unbelievable that the document has not been made available... It's astonishing that anyone would wish to hold back information from the public about the state of hospitals."

Panorama asked the Department of Health three questions:
  1. Why has Michael Banner, Chair of the Incident Panel, been refused sight of the report?
  2. Why, if this was only an interim piece of work not considered for publication, was consideration given to which photos might be used for the cover of the final report last summer?
  3. Why was it decided, in the light of the somewhat negative outcome of the report and at the express request of Ministers, that the final version and earlier draft reports remain strictly confidential?
The Department of Health replied saying only that this line of questioning was "silly". Panorama then asked why "if they were so silly, were many of the people involved in the report being telephoned on Friday and asked not to talk to Panorama?" This is a disgrace. Alan Milburn was the Secretary of State for Health at the time.

See also: BBC: Ministers sought to bury vCJD report;

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