Category Archives: Cold & Flu

Brain tree: why we replenish only some of our cells | Daniel Glaser

We are being treated to a spectacular display of autumn colour this year, but it isn’t only trees that share this pattern for periodic shedding and regrowth. Our own skin cells, for example, are renewed every month or so, but we replenish less than 10% of our bone each year. Certain types of human cells do not seem to regenerate at all and this includes brain cells. With a few exceptions (such as the hippocampus), we are born with all the brain we’ll ever have. Over childhood and into adolescence, extensive pruning of the connections between cells takes place. This neural topiary shapes all the systems of the brain. But once into adulthood, although some new connections are formed, the main structural change is the steady death of our brain cells.

Many aspects of life cause our cells to die off, including trauma, drug use, environmental pollutants, strokes… and that’s before we start on age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Yet the quality of our brain function doesn’t decline for most of adulthood. Maybe as our cells decrease we learn to adapt, picking up tricks to help us to make the best of what we’ve got.

Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London

City of Sydney sparks anger after publicising anti-vaccination event

The City of Sydney council has been criticised for publicising an anti-vaccination event on the “what’s on” part of its website, with politicians and doctors demanding it be removed.

The $ 15 “Let’s talk about vaccines” information night is scheduled for Monday and promises to answer questions such as: “Government, media and the medical community are pushing more and more vaccines on us. Why?”

The event is to feature a talk by vocal anti-vaccination activist Dr Judith Wilyman and was organised by the No Jab No Pay No Way – Freedom of Choice anti-vaccination group.

On the council’s website, anyone wanting to attend the talk was advised that a text or email containing the venue address would be sent out three hours before it started.

Outcry on social media was swift, with doctors, politicians and members of the public calling on the council to pull promotion of the event.

Dr Brad McKay (@DrBradMcKay)

“Let’s talk about vaccines” isn’t an info night – it’s an event designed to share misinformation & spread scaremongering anti-vaccine propaganda. @cityofsydney need to take this down now! https://t.co/STxpJSBTyR #skepticon

November 19, 2017

Among those demanding the talk be removed from the council website was Tanya Plibersek, deputy Labour leader and MP for Sydney, who asked: “Who approved of this idiocy?”

Tanya Plibersek (@tanya_plibersek)

Who approved this idiocy???
I want my rates refunded. https://t.co/9jCnTu3z72

November 19, 2017

Greens MLC David Shoebridge said the council was not helping the fight against anti-vaccination propaganda.

The link was removed on Sunday after it was brought to the attention of the lord mayor, Clover Moore, and councillor Linda Scott.

Clover Moore (@CloverMoore)

Thank you for alerting me to this event – I have spoken with staff and asked for it to be removed immediately.

November 19, 2017

Scott said on Twitter: “The science is settled, vaccines save lives!”

The City of Sydney said in a statement the event was removed from its listings section because it was “contrary to our values”. “This event should not have been included in the City of Sydney’s ‘what’s on’ listings and it has been removed. This is not a City of Sydney event.”

The statement said that part of the site was a “free events portal” that could be used by people to publicise their events but that “only violent or pornographic material is censored”.

Luke Weston (@lukeweston)

Not an official event, but how does an event by professional anti-vaccination cultists get endorsed and posted on the city of Sydney events website? Surely some screening has to be applied to private events.

November 19, 2017

Wilyman made headlines in 2016 when the University of Wollongong eventually accepted her thesis, which argued against Australia’s pro-vaccination policy. Her work came under heavy criticism, including from those in the medical profession, after she suggested the World Health Organisation and pharmaceutical industry were conspiring to promote vaccinations.

Wilyman has also published research proposing a disproven link between the whooping cough vaccine and autism.

Losing a child to suicide is devastating. Schools can help prevent these tragedies

The tragedy of losing a child is unimaginable. Losing a child to suicide is worse. Those who have endured such horrors will know the grief is utterly excruciating. It’s no wonder that parents who have lost children in such a way become serious risks of suicide themselves.

My son Patrick was 25 when he took his own life, although I believe his suicidal thoughts began in childhood. It’s distressing to think that an average of four schoolchildren take their own lives every week in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The majority are teenagers, but some are still in primary school – and because the official statistics don’t recognise suicides by children under 10, that number is likely to be even higher.


The 200 children lost to suicide each year could be dozens more. E​ven if it’s dozens less it’s still a national scandal

Coroners seem particularly reluctant to find suicide verdicts in the case of children, perhaps in their desire to spare families further pain. Such is the stigma that still exists around suicide. The requirement to meet the criminal standard of proof, “beyond reasonable doubt”, also makes it difficult for them to reach this conclusion. The charity Papyrus, which works to prevent young suicide and of which I am now a trustee, continues to press the Department of Justice for change. Only when a suicide verdict can be recorded on the “balance of probabilities” will the true scale be revealed.

As things currently stand, the 200 schoolchildren lost to suicide each year in the UK could be dozens more. Even if it was dozens less, it would still be a national scandal. Those of us in the club that no one wants to join are aware that life will never be the same again. Yet the grief is not confined to parents – the suicide of a child has a devastating effect on siblings, family, friends and entire school communities.

Schools are in a unique position to help prevent these tragedies. Children spend much of their waking hours at school, so teachers are in the right place to recognise that a child might be at risk. But without effective training or guidance, the opportunity for such interventions are lost. So while a recent YouGov survey commissioned by Papyrus found that more than 10% of teaching professionals said a student shares suicidal thoughts with them at least once a term, only half felt confident they could provide adequate support.

As part of its current campaign – Save the Class of 2018 – which aims to increase teacher awareness of suicide prevention, Papyrus has created a free guide (pdf) to give schools and colleges the information they need to support students who might be at risk of suicide.

It includes guidance on prevention, such as how to improve connectedness, developing a suicide prevention policy, and helpful and unhelpful language to use. There’s intervention advice, which covers what to do when you have a concern, what to look out for, and how to ask about suicide. It covers what to do after a pupil has taken their own life, how to inform and support other students, and how to communicate with the media.

The guide is very deliberately aimed at the whole school community, because it could be a teacher, secretary, dinner lady or support assistant who first identifies a vulnerable student. The challenge now is making all of our 20,000-plus UK schools aware of it.

Of course, this is not just a school issue, but a societal one. Suicide prevention is everyone’s business, but human nature tends to persuade us, until fate intervenes, that tragedies like suicide affect other people and not us.

Had I, as a headteacher, been told just how critical it was to have a suicide prevention plan in place, I’m pretty confident that I would have acted on it. Every school community we get on side could help to save even more young lives.

In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

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Use carrot and stick to tackle obesity crisis | Letters

The UK is the “most obese nation in western Europe” (Report, 11 November), and there is widespread agreement that a range of measures is required to address this problem. One such measure, the government’s proposed sugar tax on soft drinks, should therefore be commended, especially since it introduces the concept of using price policies to promote healthier eating. However, the policy is likely to be more effective if the stick of the sugar tax is balanced by a carrot of subsidies on fruit and vegetables, increased consumption of which protects against numerous disorders – notably heart disease, stroke and bowel cancer – and is likely to limit the rise in obesity. As the WHO pointed out in its 2015 report Using Price Policies to Promote Healthier Diets, “Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and targeted subsidies on fruit and vegetables emerge as the policy options with the greatest potential to induce positive changes in [food] consumption”. However, as the WHO says, extra government intervention will likely be required to bring the price of fruit and veg down to a level everyone can afford and provide the maximum benefit to all. This will require more research on price policy strategies of how to spend the tax on sugar-containing drinks – something which was not the remit of the government’s adviser, Public Health England.
Henry Leese
Windermere, Cumbria

Your report says correctly that the government’s childhood obesity strategy was heavily criticised “for its reliance on voluntary action by the food and drink industry and lack of restrictions on the marketing and advertising of junk food”. It was also criticised for making no reference to breastfeeding, or to the current inadequate restrictions on marketing and advertising of breastmilk substitutes that contravene the WHO code. Obesity begins in infancy, and it is no accident that the breastfeeding rate in Britain is among the lowest in Europe.
J Peter Greaves
London

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Use carrot and stick to tackle obesity crisis | Letters

The UK is the “most obese nation in western Europe” (Report, 11 November), and there is widespread agreement that a range of measures is required to address this problem. One such measure, the government’s proposed sugar tax on soft drinks, should therefore be commended, especially since it introduces the concept of using price policies to promote healthier eating. However, the policy is likely to be more effective if the stick of the sugar tax is balanced by a carrot of subsidies on fruit and vegetables, increased consumption of which protects against numerous disorders – notably heart disease, stroke and bowel cancer – and is likely to limit the rise in obesity. As the WHO pointed out in its 2015 report Using Price Policies to Promote Healthier Diets, “Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and targeted subsidies on fruit and vegetables emerge as the policy options with the greatest potential to induce positive changes in [food] consumption”. However, as the WHO says, extra government intervention will likely be required to bring the price of fruit and veg down to a level everyone can afford and provide the maximum benefit to all. This will require more research on price policy strategies of how to spend the tax on sugar-containing drinks – something which was not the remit of the government’s adviser, Public Health England.
Henry Leese
Windermere, Cumbria

Your report says correctly that the government’s childhood obesity strategy was heavily criticised “for its reliance on voluntary action by the food and drink industry and lack of restrictions on the marketing and advertising of junk food”. It was also criticised for making no reference to breastfeeding, or to the current inadequate restrictions on marketing and advertising of breastmilk substitutes that contravene the WHO code. Obesity begins in infancy, and it is no accident that the breastfeeding rate in Britain is among the lowest in Europe.
J Peter Greaves
London

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Use carrot and stick to tackle obesity crisis | Letters

The UK is the “most obese nation in western Europe” (Report, 11 November), and there is widespread agreement that a range of measures is required to address this problem. One such measure, the government’s proposed sugar tax on soft drinks, should therefore be commended, especially since it introduces the concept of using price policies to promote healthier eating. However, the policy is likely to be more effective if the stick of the sugar tax is balanced by a carrot of subsidies on fruit and vegetables, increased consumption of which protects against numerous disorders – notably heart disease, stroke and bowel cancer – and is likely to limit the rise in obesity. As the WHO pointed out in its 2015 report Using Price Policies to Promote Healthier Diets, “Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and targeted subsidies on fruit and vegetables emerge as the policy options with the greatest potential to induce positive changes in [food] consumption”. However, as the WHO says, extra government intervention will likely be required to bring the price of fruit and veg down to a level everyone can afford and provide the maximum benefit to all. This will require more research on price policy strategies of how to spend the tax on sugar-containing drinks – something which was not the remit of the government’s adviser, Public Health England.
Henry Leese
Windermere, Cumbria

Your report says correctly that the government’s childhood obesity strategy was heavily criticised “for its reliance on voluntary action by the food and drink industry and lack of restrictions on the marketing and advertising of junk food”. It was also criticised for making no reference to breastfeeding, or to the current inadequate restrictions on marketing and advertising of breastmilk substitutes that contravene the WHO code. Obesity begins in infancy, and it is no accident that the breastfeeding rate in Britain is among the lowest in Europe.
J Peter Greaves
London

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

NHS cash squeeze forces hospitals to postpone non-urgent operations

The NHS is under fire for forcing patients who need surgery to wait at least three months before they can have an operation in order to save money.

NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Lincolnshire have provoked sustained criticism after deciding to introduce minimum waiting times for non-urgent surgery including cataract operations and joint replacements.

They have adopted the policy as a result of the NHS-wide cash squeeze and also because they insist that some patients’ condition clears up while they wait.

A Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb, a former health minister, said the move was “a shameful indictment of the under-funding of the NHS” that would prove unfair and divisive. “It undermines the core principles of the NHS: that everyone should get compassionate treatment, as early as possible, when they need it. Those who can afford it will go private to skip the wait, while others will be left waiting in pain and discomfort. This is simply impossible to justify.”

Trafford CCG in greater Manchester has confirmed that it is also considering bringing in a similar policy, according to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), which first reported on the plans.

NHS England oversees all 209 CCGs which between them spend over £60bn of the NHS’s £125bn annual budget. It appeared to back minimum waits, despite the controversy they have aroused.

A spokesman for NHS England said that with health budgets so squeezed that NHS bodies face “difficult choices” about what they spend their money on. However, there are doubts about whether it is legal for any CCG to bring in minimum waits for care, given that patients are supposed to be guaranteed in the NHS constitution that they will be treated as soon as possible.

Lincolnshire West CCG told HSJ that it had “a responsibility to ensure public money is spent effectively and efficiently”. It added that “there is evidence that some conditions do get better over time and that, in some cases, surgery may be unnecessary” though did not specify to which conditions it was referring.

The commonest non-urgent operations hospitals perform include removal of cataracts, replacement of a worn-out hip or knee and the repair of a hernia.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said making patients wait at least 13 weeks for treatment was “arbitrary” and “ethically wrong” because patients would suffer.

Sue Hill, the college’s vice-president, said: “We strongly urge all these CCGs to reconsider this decision. Patients in Trafford currently wait an average of 7.2 weeks for any type of treatment. If this policy were to go ahead average waiting times in Trafford would double and it is difficult to see how these targets coud be achieved.”

While the RCS appreciates the severe financial pressures facing CCGs, “introducing an arbitrary minimum waiting time for surgery is unlikely to save money in the long-term and is ethically wrong. Delaying surgery can mean a patient’s condition worsens, and can make surgery more difficult and less successful,” added Hill.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG was the first to bring in minimum waits for non-urgent surgery, also for 12 weeks. But it recently abandoned the policy two months after it was brought in.

Minimum long waits for treatment were banned when the coalition was in office through a ruling in 2011 by the now defunct Cooperation and Competition Panel. However, it appears that that applied only to primary care trusts, which CCGs replaced, and not to CCGs, which hold the NHS budget across England.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, urged the government to prevent NHS bodies from using the tactic. “I’m demanding Jeremy Hunt intervenes, enforces the NHS constitution and bans these minimum waiting times. Secondly, in the budget Theresa May must provide the NHS with the money it needs to end this postcode lottery of care that has developed under the Tories.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “CCGs face difficult choices about what can be afforded within the funds parliament has made available, recognising the priority being accorded to emergency care, mental health, cancer and GP services. Last month 1.3 million patients started consultant-led elective treatment and the vast majority of patients wait less than 18 weeks.”

NHS cash squeeze forces hospitals to postpone non-urgent operations

The NHS is under fire for forcing patients who need surgery to wait at least three months before they can have an operation in order to save money.

NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Lincolnshire have provoked sustained criticism after deciding to introduce minimum waiting times for non-urgent surgery including cataract operations and joint replacements.

They have adopted the policy as a result of the NHS-wide cash squeeze and also because they insist that some patients’ condition clears up while they wait.

A Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb, a former health minister, said the move was “a shameful indictment of the under-funding of the NHS” that would prove unfair and divisive. “It undermines the core principles of the NHS: that everyone should get compassionate treatment, as early as possible, when they need it. Those who can afford it will go private to skip the wait, while others will be left waiting in pain and discomfort. This is simply impossible to justify.”

Trafford CCG in greater Manchester has confirmed that it is also considering bringing in a similar policy, according to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), which first reported on the plans.

NHS England oversees all 209 CCGs which between them spend over £60bn of the NHS’s £125bn annual budget. It appeared to back minimum waits, despite the controversy they have aroused.

A spokesman for NHS England said that with health budgets so squeezed that NHS bodies face “difficult choices” about what they spend their money on. However, there are doubts about whether it is legal for any CCG to bring in minimum waits for care, given that patients are supposed to be guaranteed in the NHS constitution that they will be treated as soon as possible.

Lincolnshire West CCG told HSJ that it had “a responsibility to ensure public money is spent effectively and efficiently”. It added that “there is evidence that some conditions do get better over time and that, in some cases, surgery may be unnecessary” though did not specify to which conditions it was referring.

The commonest non-urgent operations hospitals perform include removal of cataracts, replacement of a worn-out hip or knee and the repair of a hernia.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said making patients wait at least 13 weeks for treatment was “arbitrary” and “ethically wrong” because patients would suffer.

Sue Hill, the college’s vice-president, said: “We strongly urge all these CCGs to reconsider this decision. Patients in Trafford currently wait an average of 7.2 weeks for any type of treatment. If this policy were to go ahead average waiting times in Trafford would double and it is difficult to see how these targets coud be achieved.”

While the RCS appreciates the severe financial pressures facing CCGs, “introducing an arbitrary minimum waiting time for surgery is unlikely to save money in the long-term and is ethically wrong. Delaying surgery can mean a patient’s condition worsens, and can make surgery more difficult and less successful,” added Hill.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG was the first to bring in minimum waits for non-urgent surgery, also for 12 weeks. But it recently abandoned the policy two months after it was brought in.

Minimum long waits for treatment were banned when the coalition was in office through a ruling in 2011 by the now defunct Cooperation and Competition Panel. However, it appears that that applied only to primary care trusts, which CCGs replaced, and not to CCGs, which hold the NHS budget across England.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, urged the government to prevent NHS bodies from using the tactic. “I’m demanding Jeremy Hunt intervenes, enforces the NHS constitution and bans these minimum waiting times. Secondly, in the budget Theresa May must provide the NHS with the money it needs to end this postcode lottery of care that has developed under the Tories.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “CCGs face difficult choices about what can be afforded within the funds parliament has made available, recognising the priority being accorded to emergency care, mental health, cancer and GP services. Last month 1.3 million patients started consultant-led elective treatment and the vast majority of patients wait less than 18 weeks.”

NHS cash squeeze forces hospitals to postpone non-urgent operations

The NHS is under fire for forcing patients who need surgery to wait at least three months before they can have an operation in order to save money.

NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Lincolnshire have provoked sustained criticism after deciding to introduce minimum waiting times for non-urgent surgery including cataract operations and joint replacements.

They have adopted the policy as a result of the NHS-wide cash squeeze and also because they insist that some patients’ condition clears up while they wait.

A Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb, a former health minister, said the move was “a shameful indictment of the under-funding of the NHS” that would prove unfair and divisive. “It undermines the core principles of the NHS: that everyone should get compassionate treatment, as early as possible, when they need it. Those who can afford it will go private to skip the wait, while others will be left waiting in pain and discomfort. This is simply impossible to justify.”

Trafford CCG in greater Manchester has confirmed that it is also considering bringing in a similar policy, according to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), which first reported on the plans.

NHS England oversees all 209 CCGs which between them spend over £60bn of the NHS’s £125bn annual budget. It appeared to back minimum waits, despite the controversy they have aroused.

A spokesman for NHS England said that with health budgets so squeezed that NHS bodies face “difficult choices” about what they spend their money on. However, there are doubts about whether it is legal for any CCG to bring in minimum waits for care, given that patients are supposed to be guaranteed in the NHS constitution that they will be treated as soon as possible.

Lincolnshire West CCG told HSJ that it had “a responsibility to ensure public money is spent effectively and efficiently”. It added that “there is evidence that some conditions do get better over time and that, in some cases, surgery may be unnecessary” though did not specify to which conditions it was referring.

The commonest non-urgent operations hospitals perform include removal of cataracts, replacement of a worn-out hip or knee and the repair of a hernia.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said making patients wait at least 13 weeks for treatment was “arbitrary” and “ethically wrong” because patients would suffer.

Sue Hill, the college’s vice-president, said: “We strongly urge all these CCGs to reconsider this decision. Patients in Trafford currently wait an average of 7.2 weeks for any type of treatment. If this policy were to go ahead average waiting times in Trafford would double and it is difficult to see how these targets coud be achieved.”

While the RCS appreciates the severe financial pressures facing CCGs, “introducing an arbitrary minimum waiting time for surgery is unlikely to save money in the long-term and is ethically wrong. Delaying surgery can mean a patient’s condition worsens, and can make surgery more difficult and less successful,” added Hill.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG was the first to bring in minimum waits for non-urgent surgery, also for 12 weeks. But it recently abandoned the policy two months after it was brought in.

Minimum long waits for treatment were banned when the coalition was in office through a ruling in 2011 by the now defunct Cooperation and Competition Panel. However, it appears that that applied only to primary care trusts, which CCGs replaced, and not to CCGs, which hold the NHS budget across England.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, urged the government to prevent NHS bodies from using the tactic. “I’m demanding Jeremy Hunt intervenes, enforces the NHS constitution and bans these minimum waiting times. Secondly, in the budget Theresa May must provide the NHS with the money it needs to end this postcode lottery of care that has developed under the Tories.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “CCGs face difficult choices about what can be afforded within the funds parliament has made available, recognising the priority being accorded to emergency care, mental health, cancer and GP services. Last month 1.3 million patients started consultant-led elective treatment and the vast majority of patients wait less than 18 weeks.”

Anger after report finds birth defects not caused by hormone pregnancy tests

A hormone pregnancy test used in the 1960s and 1970s was not responsible for serious birth defects, according to an official review, which has been severely criticised by campaigners.

An expert working group set up by the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) concluded there was no “causal association” between a drug called Primodos and severe disabilities in babies.

However, MPs and families who have campaigned against hormone pregnancy tests (HPTs) for more than 40 years, said the report was a whitewash.

Yasmin Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East, said there should be a judicial review or a separate inquiry to examine allegations of a cover-up by medical regulators at the time.

The Labour MP said: “I am completely disgusted by the report. They clearly have not looked at the evidence that was presented to them. If they had looked at the evidence presented to them they could never have arrived at the conclusion they have now. This report is a complete whitewash. It is not worth the paper it has been printed on.”

Mims Davies, the Conservative MP for Eastleigh, said she was disappointed by the report and would be meeting with the prime minister to raise her concerns.

Davies said: “I was thoroughly dissatisfied by the complete lack of transparency in the creation and preparation of this report, with the only representative of campaigners against these historic injustices on the panel being gagged by a confidentiality agreement and prevented from speaking about the report’s preparation.”

The expert group recommended that families who took an HPT and experienced an “adverse pregnancy outcome” should be offered genetic testing to establish whether there was a different underlying cause.

Campaigners believe that as well as causing disabilities, the drugs could also cause miscarriage or stillbirth.

Marie Lyon, chair of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, said: “It’s truly shocking and I am appalled by the report. We all feel betrayed, and I feel like I have no faith in government health agencies now. I am distraught for our members, who still haven’t had the answers they need.”

Charlotte Fensome, whose brother Steven has severe epilepsy, said she was horrified by the report.

“I’m obviously hugely disappointed by this report. My parents are 81 and 76, and they are struggling every day with my brother. Every victim of Primodos is a personal tragedy, and I am shocked at how this investigation has been carried out.

“My mother was given Primodos when she was eight weeks pregnant, and my brother was born with severe brain damage. It affects the whole family every single day. This is just a battle, and there is a long war ahead.”

The expert group assessed a number of studies looking at a possible link between women given an HPT to diagnose pregnancy and congenital anomalies in babies, but concluded there was no connection.

The expert group found that “although there was never any reliable evidence that HPTs were unsafe, concern about this issue, coupled with the development of better pregnancy tests” led to the use of HPTs being restricted in the 1970s.

A 1967 report found there might be a link between HPTs and spina bifida, and – following the thalidomide scandal which had recently led to that drug being withdrawn – concerns about HPTs rose dramatically.

Primodos, which was also used to treat menstruation problems, was then withdrawn completely in 1978. “Whether these precautionary actions were sufficiently timely became a subject of controversy,” noted the report.

Modern pregnancy tests measure hormone levels in a woman’s urine. The older HPTs contained synthetic versions of two hormones found naturally in the body. Two pills were taken on consecutive days, with a withdrawal bleed a few days later in those who were not pregnant.

Primodos contained synthetic versions of progesterone and estrogen.

Prof Stuart Ralston, the chair of the CHM, said: “This was a comprehensive and wide-ranging scientific review of all the available evidence on the possible association between HPTs and birth defects by internationally leading experts across a broad range of specialisms.”

Dr Ailsa Gebbie, the chair of the expert working group, said: “Our recommendations will strengthen further the systems in place for detecting, evaluating and communicating risk with use of medicines in pregnancy and help safeguard future generations.”

A spokeswoman for Bayer AG, which acquired Primodos manufacturer Schering in 2006, said: “Bayer notes that a review by an independent expert working group on hormone pregnancy tests of the Commission on Human Medicines has found, consistent with Bayer’s view, based on all available data, that the scientific evidence does not support a causal association between the use of hormone pregnancy tests, such as Primodos, and birth defects or miscarriage.”