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Libel laws stifling debate on drug safety, say GPs

By Craig Kenny

Exclusive: Half of GPs believe the UK's libel laws are stifling debate about drug safety, according to early results from Pulse's pre-election survey of key policy issues.

Asked if libel laws were ‘restricting open discussion of the potential risks of drug treatment', 48% of GPs polled agreed and just 12% disagreed. The rest were undecided.

Our survey, of almost 600 GPs, follows recent controversy over libel action against Dr Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association, and the case of Danish radiologist Dr Henrik Thomsen, who was reportedly threatened with libel action in the UK for criticising a commonly used drug.

Dr Bill Beeby, chair of the GPC's prescribing committee, said the UK's libel laws seemed unfair: ‘Large organisations may use their resources against someone who stands no chance of being able to contest it.'

One GP told our survey: ‘The risk is that serious scientific debate is suffocated.'

‘I have always viewed reasonable opinion and criticism as an essential part of medicine and safety of medicine. But if you are speaking at conferences and expressing opinions, you need to have substantial back-up for what you say.'

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Libel laws stifling debate on drug safety, say GPs