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HomeCOVID-19The Daily Mail and the vindictive hounding of a good doctor

The Daily Mail and the vindictive hounding of a good doctor

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THE sordid state of the medical system here in the UK is laid bare in excruciating detail in a recent Daily Mail article which chooses to perpetuate myths and disinformation rather than engage in genuine reporting.

The story so far

Dr Sarah Myhill, a doctor now working as a naturopath, is being hounded by the General Medical Council (GMC) who have referred her to various hearings at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). Myhill’s alleged transgressions are outlined in great detail on the MPTS website, but the gist of the complaint seems to be that Myhill has had the temerity to highlight the benefits of low-cost treatments (such as Vitamin D) over expensive – and possibly harmful – pharmaceuticals. 

This matter should hardly be controversial, even to the mainstream – after all, many will have heard or watched the various TV series such as Dopesick, Painkiller or the BBC recent Panorama exposé The Antidepressant Story.  In contrast to these expensive chemical compounds that have multiple adverse effects – both on individuals and society as a whole – stand inexpensive treatments and lifestyles that are as cheap as (and substantially healthier than) chips. 

Consider the benefits of Vitamin D – the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – extolled in no lesser organ of public opinion than the Daily Mail itself, Mark Solomons reporting only a few weeks ago that ‘a third of Britons have Vitamin D deficiency due to spending too much time indoors, poor diet and failing to take supplements’.

What an opportunity to follow this excellent educational reporting with an additional piece that promotes healthy living and the perils of the over-promotion of ‘pill popping’. Alas . . . The headline alone is a classic of the disinformation genre, comprising just 23 words (and a number): ‘Welsh doctor, 64, who recommended patients use livestock dewormer to treat Covid and other “potentially harmful” substances is banned for an extra year’.

Precisely why Welsh doctors approaching retirement are deemed worthy of this assassination by headline is not clear – perhaps that is just the Daily Mail’s house style.  That aside, the following twin headline double-barrelled untruths deserve greater scrutiny.

Vitamins C and D are branded ‘other “potentially harmful” substances’, which is of course entirely correct . . . but only in the sense that too much of almost anything is not only possibly harmful, but potentially lethal. Water – the elixir of life, the molecule that makes up almost 60 per cent of your bodyweight – can cause death not only by drowning, but also by overhydration. If Vitamins C and D are now ‘potentially harmful’ and result in witch-hunt reporting, can we expect the Daily Mail to refer itself for censure for calling for its readers to ‘drink plenty of fluids’ without suitable caveats? In contrast to this – potentially lethal – advice from the Daily Mail, Dr Myhill has advocated taking a high dosage of Vitamin D but at a level no greater than recent research has determined to be safe.

The ‘livestock dewormer’ in question is ivermectin, a very cheap and Nobel prize-winning antiviral drug. After a history of veterinary use, it was approved by the FDA for human use in 1996, has been on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines since at least 2015 and was described in the Journal of Antibiotics in 2020 as an antiviral ‘wonder drug’ that ‘is continuing to surprise and excite scientists, offering more and more promise to help improve global public health by treating a diverse range of diseases, with its unexpected potential as an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-cancer agent being particularly extraordinary . . . perhaps more than any other drug, ivermectin is a drug for the world’s poor. For most of this century, some 250million people have been taking it annually to combat two of the world’s most devastating, disfiguring, debilitating and stigma-inducing diseases, Onchocerciasis (river blindness) and Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis). Most of the recipients live in remote, rural, desperately under-resourced communities in developing countries and have virtually no access to even the most rudimentary of medical interventions. Moreover, all the treatments have been made available free of charge thanks to [an] unprecedented drug donation programme’.

What a heart-warming story! If only the Daily Mail had chosen to share this feel-good blockbuster with its readers. Many doctors prescribe ivermectin off-label, which is entirely normal behaviour (after all, repurposing a drug that already has a defined safety record is far less risky than rushing a new medicine – which by definition will not have a long track record – to market). The UK government website says: ‘There are clinical situations when the use of unlicensed medicines or use of medicines outside the terms of the licence (i.e. “off-label”) may be judged by the prescriber to be in the best interest of the patient on the basis of available evidence. Such practice is particularly common in certain areas of medicine: for instance, in paediatrics where difficulties in the development of age-appropriate formulations means that many medicines used in children are used off-label or are unlicensed.’

Who better to make these kinds of decisions than a patient’s doctor?

Many people will be aware of what happened next. Various shenanigans ensued resulting in ivermectin being discredited. One of the most Kafkaesque situations was a smear campaign orchestrated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that branded ivermectin ‘horse-paste’ and informed people that ‘you are not a horse’.  Quite an eyebrow-raising stunt when you consider that ivermectin is safe enough to feature on the website of another US agency, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with an oral dosage level that is declared safe for use in children over the weight of 15kg. The FDA was – quite rightly – subsequently eviscerated in a recent US Fifth District court ruling: ‘The Food and Drug Administration is not a physician, so it had no business cautioning people not to take ivermectin.’

The ruling is worth reading in full.

Returning to the Daily Mail headline, we can summarise the situation as follows: authorities have censured a doctor who promoted (within the known safe usage parameters!) certain vitamins and antiviral treatments. Whether or not these treatments are effective or not is essentially irrelevant – they are safe, which is more can be said for any newly introduced pharmaceutical product with no long-term safety data.

Contrast the prescription of these safe treatments with said authorities’ recent (well, since late 2020) enthusiastic one-size-fits-all promotion of various injectable products that were claimed to be both ‘safe’ and ‘effective’.

There is, of course, a rational (if somewhat chilling) explanation as to why we find ourselves in this bizarre and counter-intuitive situation.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider what twisted circumstances can have arisen for the medical establishment to weaponise its disciplinary procedures, especially in the case of a doctor who has already attempted to take herself off the register.  The GMC and the MPTS are only too aware that ‘suspension has a deterrent effect and can be used to send out a signal to the doctor, the profession and public about what is regarded as behaviour unbefitting a registered doctor’.

The action against Myhill seems overly vindictive and a waste of time, money and resources. The absurdity of proceedings has been inadvertently summarised by the GMC’s KC, Tom Kark: ‘The problem with the Myhill cases is that all the patients are improved and all refuse to give witness statements.’ 

Perhaps the intention is to come after other doctors that dare to speak out, and to deter others from joining them in speaking truth to power.

The promotion of one-size-fits-all pharmaceutical interventions is clearly a profitable endeavour for various pharmaceutical companies and associated vested interests, but it is clearly not in the best interests of patients.  Doctors promise to ‘first, do no harm’, and they – and all associated establishment regulators and other authorities – pay appropriate lip-service regarding patient autonomy, choice and informed consent as encapsulated in any (and one would hope all?) documented formulations of the doctor-patient relationship. 

The truth is starkly different. There are good doctors who are willing to put patients first, resist groupthink and stand up to bullying regulators. The hounding and demonisation of these doctors is an appalling and sinister crime. It happened before Covid, it happened during Covid, and it is happening now. It is sad to see spineless reporting by those in the mainstream media who (1) should know better and (2) have the resources to stand up to the drug-pushers. 

Perhaps the only answer is bottom-up resistance.  If enough people resolve to ensure that justice is done, then complaining to the GMC might make a difference.  

To paraphrase Pastor Martin Niemöller’s haunting lament:

Image courtesy of: https://www.hartgroup.org/first-do-harm/

This article appeared in HART on November 27, 2023, and is republished by kind permission.

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Dr Alex Starling
Dr Alex Starling
Dr Alex Starling is an adviser to and non-executive director of various early-stage technology companies. Follow him on Substack and Twitter/X. @alexstarling77.

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