Liam Donaldson’s Swine Flu Panic Staggers On

Sir Liam Donaldson – Still Worried About Swine Flu

Sir Liam Donaldson used to be Chief Medical Officer. We grew used to his panic-spreading about health scares like swine flu.

And now, he is the lead author of a new paper on swine flu in The Lancet.

Apparently swine flu killed three times as many children last year as “ordinary flu” would have.

Sounds serious eh? And the paper declares boldy:

Our findings support the vaccination of children against pandemic influenza A H1N1. Children at greatest risk of severe illness or death should be prioritised. Our data indicate that risk groups include children with preexisting illness (including chronic neurological or gastrointestinal disease) and those in ethnic minority groups (including Bangladeshi and Pakistani children).

However, our findings also suggest that protection cannot be confined to risk groups as 21 per cent of deaths in our cohort occurred in healthy children.

There’s one problem with that conclusion: it bears no relation to the evidence presented.

First, that “three times as likely”. A reader glancing at the story might think that means swine flu is three times as dangerous to children as “normal flu”. But in fact, it means that six in every million children caught swine flu and died from it, while normally two in every million catch “normal flu” and die from it.

And that is hardly surprising considering that during that mini-epidemic, overall levels of flu in the population were significantly higher than usual. And flu sometimes (very rarely) kills its victims. The truth is that those statistics pretty much prove that swine flu is no more dangerous than “normal flu”.

The total number of children who died from swine flu was apparently 70. And of those, most had pre-existing conditions that made them susceptible. Just 14 were previously healthy. A comment on that Telegraph article points out that these numbers are not statistically significant anyway.

The real situation is that there were more flu cases than usual last year, and therefore a few more people died from it than usual. Awful for the families involved, obviously, but hardly an enormous menace that justifies an immediate mass vaccination programme.

That figure of six children per million dying from swine flu equates to one per 167,000.

By way of comparison, according to the US National Weather Service, around one in every 500,000 Americans are struck by lightning each year.

Thus Sir Liam thinks that a risk that is around three times the risk of being struck by lightning, justifies a vaccination programme for all children.

Good grief, Sir Liam. Time for a well-earned retirement methinks.

12 Years As Chief Medical Officer

Sir Liam Donaldson – 12 Years of Crying in the Wilderness

Liam Donaldson, the government’s “Chief Medical Officer”, has produced his annual report. It is the last before he steps down in the summer after 12 years in the job.

In his report, he bemoans the fitness levels of our children and suggests routine “bleep tests” would help.

A bleep test, apparently, is not a test for the swear words that most of us utter when we hear Sir Liam’s latest pronouncements on the nation’s health. It is a fitness test. Apparently testing the fitness of all our children would magically get them off the Playstations and onto the playing fields.

The report says that being physically fit is crucial to good health, but that too many people are failing to heed the warnings of people like himself. Well, what a surprise.

The report even, ludicrously, suggests that grandparents should be given “support” to help them become “health mentors” for their grandchildren. It claims that grandparents are in general playing an increasing role in their grandchildren’s lives (which is arguably nonsense given the collapse of family structures in the country). And yet, it says, less than 5% play sport with their grandchildren.

I can see it now:

“You know, Johnny, you do spend too much time on that Playstation. In my young day we didn’t have Playstations. We used to be out playing football. I have been given support to help me be a health mentor and I think you should take more exercise.”

“Come on then, grand-dad, let’s go and play football in the garden.”

“Sorry, lad, my gammy leg’s playing up today. Pass the cream cakes.”

Last year Sir Liam was leading the charge against the scourge of Swine Flu. On 8th October last year he was excitedly explaining how the government was fighting the disease with the vaccination program it was about to roll out, and described the disease thus:

“Swine flu is not a killer, but it can kill.”

In March 2009, Sir Liam was calling for legal minimum alcohol prices, with wine set at a minimum price of £4.50 a bottle. He was making his notorious suggestion that we should recognise the concept of “passive drinking” because “England has a drink problem and the whole of society bears the burden”.

Before that, in 2005, it was a different kind of flu – this time avian flu. Sir Liam was warning of a forthcoming pandemic then as well.

And before that, it was the BSE/ CJD scare. In December 1999 Sir Liam was telling the BBC:

“We are not going to know for several years whether the size of the epidemic will be a small one – in other words in the hundreds – or a very large one in the hundreds of thousands.”

Last year, there were 3 deaths in the UK from “new variant” CJD. The highest recorded figure was 28 deaths, in the year 2000. The total number of deaths so far from this supposedly new disease is 168. I suppose that counts as “hundreds”, although I suspect Sir Liam meant hundreds per year.

There have been many more such examples over those 12 years. Sir Liam has spent those years issuing reports and making pronouncements and plans and, it seems, having very little impact on anything at all. It just hasn’t happened for him. That serious epidemic, with hundreds of thousands dying like flies and the hospital emergency wards crumbling under the strain, just never materialised. His dreams of being at the centre of a real crisis have come to nothing.

Spare a thought for Sir Liam. For 12 years he has been, like Cassandra, uttering true prophesies and yet being ignored. I am sure that the salary he has been paid has been but small recompense.

All this should lead us to ask ourselves what the “Chief Medical Officer” is actually for. He seems to spend most of his time publicising the latest scare story, or exhorting everyone to live healthier lives.

That job title makes him sound really important. The truth is that the Chief Medical Officer is simply the Chief Spin Doctor (Health Department). The next government should abolish the post.

Kids or Guinea Pigs?


A trial is about to begin of the new swine flu vaccines, testing the jabs on 1,000 children.

Dr Saul Faust was quoted as saying, “What we are trying to do is to find out if one of the vaccines is better than the other in terms of immune reactions, particularly against swine flu, but also to make sure that one of the vaccinations doesn’t have worse side effects than the other.”

The parents of the kids who take part in the trial will apparently not be sectioned, despite this clear evidence of their insanity.

Once the vaccination programme starts, certain “at risk” groups including pregnant women will be early candidates for the jabs. “Subject to licensing arrangements and better information on when in the pregnancy the vaccine should be given”, of course. Pregnant women are normally advised not to have vaccinations. But obviously they are going to make an exception in this case.

At least one of the vaccines to be used, Pandemrix, also contains thiomersal. This is a mercury-based preservative whose safety has been questioned, and which is being phased out in the US and Europe.

If this was a devastating disease, about to rampage through the population slaughtering millions, perhaps all this would be justified. But we are talking about a variety of the common H1N1 flu. For most who catch it (including children and pregnant women), it is an unpleasant but mild disease that gets better in less than a week without treatment.

I am sure I am not the only one with a bad feeling about all this. But the government has already signed contracts to buy 132 million doses of the vaccines, enough for two doses for every single member of the population, so is obviously keen for the immunisation programme to go ahead. Otherwise somebody might ask whether money had been wasted.

Prof Steve Field

Dr Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, was quoted as saying, “The patients do trust us but we have to be honest with them. This isn’t a paternalistic thing.”

Well, sorry, Steve, but I don’t trust you. Neither I nor any member of my family will be getting the “swine flu” jabs. If we get this flu, we will rest, take Nurofen and wait to get better. I’m not risking my family’s health on the whims of a health profession that seems to be motivated by nothing more than the thrill of battling against an epidemic.

Swine Flu and Other Public Panics

The government’s blanket swine flu vaccination programme is about to begin.

The government has purchased 132 million doses of the vaccine. Apparently that’s enough for two doses for each member of the population. (The UK population is now estimated by the Office for National Statistics at 61.4 million, so in fact there should be 9 million doses left over, but hey, what’s 9 million extra vaccine dose sales between friends?) They are now beginning to think that only one dose may be needed. So they could be paying for as many as 50 million more doses than required.

We know that maths is not the strong point of our nanny State, but let’s leave that aside for a moment.

Even the government admits that swine flu is normally a mild disease. It is a variety of normal flu, which the government has now taken to calling “seasonal flu” to distinguish it from the otherwise nearly identical “swine” variety. Obviously there are people, for example those who have compromised immune systems, for whom it could be dangerous and vaccination might be appropriate. But the whole population?

A public hysteria has been created. Schools have been closed. A special hotline has been set up, specifically to bypass the normal prescription-issuing mechanisms for “anti-virals”. There have been dark hints that the virus may mutate and suddenly become some awful plague, so that thousands might die. The media has had a feeding frenzy on all this, of course. It sells papers! But the foundation for the scare, the information upon which it is based, comes from the public health authorities.

Now that the “epidemic” is abating, we are being told that it will come back in the autumn. I suggest we don’t panic unduly over this latest prediction.

We have been here before.

In 1984, the BSE scare began. Cows began dying in large numbers from the disease. Speculation began that humans might be susceptible, focussing on a disease with similar symptoms in human beings called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD). This is an extremely rare disease, so little was known about it.

But now research began in earnest, and a “new type” of CJD was recognised. It was swiftly christened “New Variant CJD”, then shortened to “variant CJD”. Then the public health people came up with a piece of marketing genius, beginning to call it “vCJD”. Note the lower case “v”. A great piece of branding, much like the “i” in “iPhone”.

Public health officials quickly began speculating that “millions might die”, based on little evidence.

The Agriculture Secretary at the time, John Gummer, did his best to calm things down. At the time he was accused of complacency. He has now been completely vindicated.

Millions have not died. CJD remains mercifully fantastically rare (only about three times as common as being struck by lightening).

We should learn a lesson from these two episodes, Swine Flu and BSE. It is time to stop simply trusting government officials who tell us we are in danger. We should demand clear, unambiguous facts, and above all demand to know what evidence they have for their scare stories. This we should especially do when their proposed solution is lots more money to be dispensed by them to protect us from the alleged danger. Suspicions, things that “might” happen, a “range of possible outcomes”, the “precautionary principle” are all nonsense.

It is, in fact, time to stop believing that the motivations of public officials are always pure, heroic and impartial. They are in fact human like the rest of us, and just as susceptible to greed, stupidity and the herd instinct.

So next time you see a lurid newspaper headline about some awful health problem that is about to kill millions, stop and ask yourself who stands to gain the most from the prediction you’re reading. Often you will find it is the people making the prediction.

Update 17th September: The number of swine flu cases has been reported to rise last week to 5000, up from 3000 the previous week. Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, was quoted as saying, “We don’t know whether it will be sustained but I think it’s one of the few straws in the wind that we might be seeing an upturn. We would have hoped for a bit more breathing space before it started again but this is still consistent with scientific predictions for another peak before mid October.”

Sir Liam, it is also consistent with the fact that the children went back to school last week. The really obscure clue that Sir Liam seems to have missed is the fact that most of the rise occurred amongst school age children.

Sir Liam, please find something useful to do and stop wasting our time!