Most of the public and GPs sceptical of drug trial claims – UK survey

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Most people are more likely to trust advice from friends about medicines than scientific research, while GPs are even more sceptical than the general public, a UK survey found.

IoL reports that a survey found that 63% of the public and 82% of GPs are sceptical of claims made by drugs trials. Many have major doubts following a series of scares over the safety of HRT, cholesterol-busting statins and the antiviral drug Tamiflu and, the report says, the Academy of Medical Sciences in the UK, which carried out the poll, is calling for a major overhaul of the way patients are told about drugs.

They want the NHS Choices website to publish detailed information about the likely risks and side-effects of the most common treatments. In addition, they are urging GPs to hold longer appointments, particularly with older patients, to discuss any concerns.

The academy surveyed 2,041 members of the public and 1,013 GPs about attitudes towards medical research. Just 37% of the public said they would trust evidence from medical research while 65% would trust experience from friends and family.

Surprisingly, the report says, 82% of GPs said they believed medical research was biased in favour of drugs appearing effective and safe.

Author Professor John Tooke, former president of the academy, said: “It’s startling to hear that only about a third of the public trust medical research.

“Patients are struggling to make sense of the information they receive from their doctor, the TV, the internet and their friends and family about medicines.

“With our ageing population and ever more sophisticated treatments being made available, we need to act now to give patients clearer and more useful information about the medicines they take.” He added: “We all need to make decisions about medicines at some time in our lives and this should involve the opportunity to consider which treatment will meet our individual needs. We will only succeed in making the most of the tremendous strides in medical science if we are also able to share knowledge effectively with patients to allow them to make the best decisions about medicines.”

The report says the survey highlighted the ongoing controversy over statins, taken by 6m Britons to lower cholesterol. Academics claim the drugs could prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes a year. Yet many GPs and patients are very worried about the long-term side-effects, which include type 2 diabetes, and fear they have been underplayed by medical research.

Similarly, the report says, there is a continuing debate over the safety of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the menopause and whether it causes breast cancer. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has claimed the benefits outweigh the risk, yet surveys have shown the majority of women are still very sceptical. And research in 2009 claimed that “more than half of children taking Tamiflu to combat swine flu suffer side-effects such as nausea, insomnia and nightmares”.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said: “Medical science is progressing at an unprecedented rate, opening up opportunities not only to cure certain diseases but potentially to prevent them ever occurring. It is vital that we find the best possible ways to use and communicate scientific evidence, so that progress may be translated into benefits for patients.”


Drug information leaflets must be improved so they can be more easily read and understood, the survey claims. According to a Daily Mail report, the academy has called for the pamphlets that come in medicine boxes to be made clearer to ensure “comprehension and readability” for patients. Drug leaflets should also include information on the benefits of taking a medicine, and not just a ‘laundry list’ of the potential harms, it adds.

Tooke said: “The patient information leaflet does not provide a balanced appraisal of the benefits and harms of medicines and was described in our public dialogue as being ‘impenetrable’ and ‘unreadable’.”

The report says the academy has released a series of potential questions that the public can ask their doctor to help them make an informed decision about whether to take certain medicines.

Tooke said: “As far as patient information leaflets are concerned there is currently an obligation for industry to expose the risks, which is why they predominate this laundry list of side effects. That’s a regulatory requirement and we’re saying that the regulation needs to serve the user and therefore what they need too is a balanced view of the potential harms and benefits.’”

The academy recommends patients ask their doctor questions, such as “how will this medicine make me feel? Will it affect my daily life?”, to aid their decision-making regarding whether to take certain medications.

IoL report
Daily Mail report

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