Today’s Debate on the Second Reading of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill – following the Primodos scandal we need a Patient Safety Commissioner and action on using tissue or organs from prisoners and dissidents

Sep 2, 2020 | News

Today’s Debate on the Second Reading of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hormone Pregnancy Tests. I want to raise two issues: Primodos, which is part of the investigation conducted by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege; and the violation of human rights in the trading and misuse of organs and human tissue, referred to earlier by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.

The Minister knows how much I admire the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, but I reiterate my wholehearted support for her report and recommendations, and I place again on record my admiration for the sensitive way in which she collected evidence, dealt with the many people who were affected by these scandals and brought forward these admirable recommendations. Parliament must now ensure that the report does not gather dust. The Royal College of Surgeons rightly draws attention to the review’s recommendation of a patient safety commissioner, as referred to earlier, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what we are going to do about that.

It is over 10 years since I first questioned Ministers about Primodos after a man called Karl Murphy came to my university office and showed me the disabilities with which he has had to live all his life. Following the recent Sky TV documentary, he emailed me last week saying:

“the lies and deceit I have seen regarding this drug is an utter disgrace … I really do hope that the Government and Bayer have some respect and understanding of what these families are going through.”

The redoubtable Marie Lyon has refused over all these years to let this scandal be swept under the carpet, and I am glad that the Minister heard from her first-hand only yesterday. She made a telling point to me that in appointing Stephen Lightfoot, an ex-director of Bayer, as the new chair of the MHRA, they have clearly learned absolutely nothing about conflicts of interest and public perception and confidence. In the light of such appointments and reports of five scientists walking out of a task force for back pain after finding out that a briefing paper was funded by the drug company Grünenthal, perhaps the Minister will say what the Government will be doing to police conflicts of interest and the suppression or manipulation of data.

If Primodos teaches us anything, it is the importance of the independent assessment and scrutiny of all clinical trials. But, like others, I would like to see the Bill tackle the misuse of human tissue and organs. In the letter sent yesterday by the Minister, he says the “government takes these allegations seriously and we continue to monitor all available evidence”, but monitoring is simply not enough.

Two years ago, in August 2018, along with Professor Jo Martin, the president of the Royal College of Pathologists, I wrote to the Times after the NEC in Birmingham hosted the exhibition referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. It was called “Real Bodies” and from the company Imagine Exhibitions. The exhibition consisted of human corpses and body parts. It advertised those exhibits as “real human specimens that have been respectfully preserved”.

They were categorised as “unclaimed bodies”, with no relatives to identify them. As we heard, in advance of the American equivalent of that exhibition it was stated in a disclaimer —after a settlement with the New York State Attorney-General—that these human remains could be those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons. Imagine Exhibitions admitted that there was no documentation to prove the identities of the cadavers, yet they were permitted to enter the UK to be put on public display for commercial gain. Human tissue from abroad has no consent or traceability requirements to enter the UK, nor do we prohibit commercial gain. However, we should do and this Bill gives us the opportunity to do it.

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