Resignation of Prof David Baldwin as expert witness to PHE Review

Three days ago, Prof David Baldwin’s resignation as expert witness to Public Health England review on prescribed drug dependence was announced in the national press.

Great play was made about comments in a single blog where Prof Baldwin was described as a “Pharma-Whore” and a comment appended to that blog where he was likened to “Hitler”.  This hardly constitutes a sustained campaign of abuse. No mention was made that either the blogger, Truthman, or the commenter had both been seriously harmed by Seroxat, or that Prof David Baldwin had promoted Seroxat as being safe.   Neither the blogger nor the commenter were contacted by the press to explain why they had used these terms to describe Prof Baldwin.  The blog and comments can be read here.

If any psychiatrist cares to come and spend time in the online prescribed harmed community they would find that the rage and the hatred for psychiatry is immense because the lives of so many ordinary patients have been destroyed simply because patients trusted their doctors.  The betrayal of trust coupled with the frequent denial of drug harm from the medical profession as well as the debilitating disabilities makes for  regular outbursts of justified rage.  I share that sense of rage looking back on my own life which has been utterly destroyed by the failure of psychiatry to recognise adverse drug effects, instead leading me to believe I had a depressive illness from which I would never recover.  At no time in 40 years was it ever suggested to me that I could possibly function without medication or that in fact the medication was making me very unwell. I believe that the grief for a life lost would be overwhelming but I am protected by the fact that my emotions are dulled as is my brain and so thoughts and emotions are very subdued most of the time.  Outbursts of rage however do happen, usually when I am faced with a doctor.

The Times reported that “David Baldwin claimed that a fellow adviser helped to fan the flames of online abuse in a row over the effects of the drugs.”  I would like to know what evidence exists to support this claim.  The blogger, Truthman, has been blogging for years about Seroxat and GSK, as can be seen from his blog above.

Prof Baldwin was portrayed as a victim, but he is not the victim, the real victims are the countless patients who have either lost their lives or been seriously harmed by SSRI antidepressants.  As Prof Baldwin has extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry, his role as expert witness to PHE review was inappropriate.   Perhaps any distress caused to him will diminish in a couple of weeks, just as the withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants were said to be short-lived and self-limiting.   Prof Baldwin’s statement about antidepressant withdrawal is said to be in keeping with NICE guidelines, yet the guidelines on depression have since been classed as unfit for purpose.  If they are indeed unfit for purpose, surely it would not have been difficult to retract and apologise for the letter in the Times, given that the information presented was likely to be inaccurate.  The tapering guidance in the NICE guidelines is based on short term clinical trials and therefore do not apply to most patients in the real world where antidepressants are prescribed for many years and even decades.

The following day a second article was published in The Times newspaper.

This again was written in support of antidepressants as an effective means of treating depression.  However, no question was asked as to why there are 9 million patients on the drugs in the UK when only 2 million are estimated to be suffering from depression and only a fraction of those are said to be receiving treatment.   The arguments about the effectiveness of antidepressants for depression therefore only apply to a small percentage of patients taking the drugs.  The issues are the risks of dependence, the immense difficulties of withdrawal, the fact that many patients cannot get off the drugs and that many are also being left irreversibly and seriously damaged.  There was no mention of this in the article.  Once again it downplays the horrendous symptoms patients are experiencing both whilst taking the drugs and when trying to come off them.   It does not address the issue of whether the harms in fact outweigh the benefits.

“There are side-effects to taking them, and side-effects to coming off them. They do not work for everyone but they are a gain to human wellbeing. Scientists should study them, not attack their advocates.”

The news about Prof Baldwin’s resignation was also reported in the BMJ.  I have written a rapid response, yet to be published.

Rapid Response

As a member of the prescribed harmed community and an active campaigner on prescribed drug dependence, I am fully aware of the exchanges taking place on social media and indeed have played an active part in those exchanges over a long period of time. Patient campaigners are well-informed, articulate and respectful for the most part but rarely is there a genuine dialogue with representatives of the Royal College of Psychiatry. Questions are for the most part ignored and even when engagement does take place it is rarely satisfactory. Prof David Baldwin has not himself been involved in any of the extensive Twitter discussions as far as I am aware but they have mostly involved attempts at engagement with Prof Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College. It is therefore extremely disappointing that a few unpleasant comments have been highlighted in the press, taken from a blog and a comment to that blog. The blogger in question has been campaigning for many years particularly on Seroxat and the pharmaceutical industry, and despite his extensive knowledge of these matters he was not himself approached by the journalists in question.

Patients in the prescribed harmed community welcome the resignation of Prof David Baldwin as expert witness because of his many declared conflicts of interest. Patients were dismayed by his assertion that antidepressant withdrawal was short-lived for the vast majority of patients, they were further dismayed that there was no clear evidence to support this assertion and no apology or retraction of the letter in The Times. Patients remain extremely concerned about the current Public Health England Review and are particularly dismayed that they have not been invited to give evidence directly. We all view this as a glaring omission and as further dismissal and rejection of the hugely important lived experiences of those patients harmed by drugs of dependence. We are of course free to compile and collate information into a format that is acceptable to Public Health England, otherwise our views will be filtered by professionals into report format. Patients who have been harmed by drugs of dependence will continue to take a keen interest in this review, but will continue to campaign for a public inquiry as this is needed to fully understand why such a prescribing disaster was allowed to happen in the first place.

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