SIRC – Media Watch 20-04-99

Problems of Preventative Healthcare

It was announced on Wednesday that eleven of the 85 women whose breast screening results had been found to be flawed had died. Dr John Brennan, the radiologist in charge of the programme resigned last week on receipt of the enquiry’s findings, but stated that his decision was based upon his dissatisfaction with the disciplinary procedure rather than an admittance of his culpability, believing bureaucracy and lack of funding were really to blame. Fifty separate legal actions by victims and their families are now under way. While there is little doubt that screening provides a positive early detection and treatment potential this latest incident highlights a misplaced reliance on science that can never offer us what it is that we really crave, absolute certainty.

A re-emphasis of this early detection ethos was provided by various medical organisations in the US this week who were calling for the re-calibration of the diagnostic definitions of four major illnesses. Under these new guidelines 75% of the US population would overnight become "diseased" giving the health profession a vastly inflated market. In his editorial commentary, Dr Gilbert Welch does register some concerns: "In a nation already obsessed with weight and body image and in which eating disorders are prevalent, labelling half the population as ‘overweight’, for example, may be traumatic" and asks "if the focus on finding early disease is distracting us from caring for the sick"