Letter in the Daily Telegraph on “reputable” health websites and their problems

  1. On 1 January 2018, I had a letter published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on “reputable” health websites and their problems.
  2. This was in response to the Telegraph’s front-page story on 29 December 2017, “Patients told: ask Dr Google before your GP”. There it was reporting the latest advice from the Royal College of GPs to reduce the number of unnecessary GP consultations: http://www.rcgp.org.uk/news/2017/december/3-before-gp-new-rcgp-mantra-to-help-combat-winter-pressures-in-general-practice.aspx.
  3. My letter is available on the Telegraph website: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2018/01/01/lettersthe-honours-system-based-strange-definition-public-service/.
  4. For those outside the paywall, here it is as published:

Sir,

In an attempt to reduce the number of unnecessary GP consultations, the Royal College of GPs has advised the public to follow three steps before booking an appointment (report, December 29). One of these is to consult NHS Choices or “similar reputable websites/ resources”.

But what exactly is a reputable health website? Opaque business models abound, even among trusted websites. Very few, if any, adequately disclose their contributors’ relevant financial interests.

Moreover, if a health site carries adverts, the separation between them and editorial can be blurred.

Dr Alex May

Manchester’

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What Charles Moore failed to disclose about “wonderful” charity Style for Soldiers

  1. On 30 October 2017, Charles Moore wrote about “wonderful” charity Style for Soldiers in his notebook column in The Daily Telegraph newspaper: Daily Telegraph 30 Oct 2017. But he failed to disclose something relevant – colleague Lisa Armstrong, Telegraph fashion director, is a trustee of the charity that provides bespoke clothes for wounded soldiers.
  2. The “Fashion Journalist of the Year” hasn’t just become a trustee. Ms Armstrong was a founding director – that is, trusteewhen the charitable company was incorporated on 13 November 2012, according to Companies House records (registered company number: 08291711). The Charity Commission public register of charities confirms her as a trustee (registered charity number: 1161119).
  3. It may be “wonderful” as former Telegraph editor Mr Moore says, but Style for Soldiers seems to be confused about the difference between patron and trustee. Ms Armstrong is identified as a patron on the charity website (screen shot in Figure 1). Shirtmaker Emma Willis set up Style for Soldiers.

Figure 1. “Patron” Lisa Armstrong: Style for Soldiers homepage at 2 November 2017

  1. This isn’t the first time the military charity has appeared in The Telegraph, however. On 17 December 2016, for example, Ms Armstrong wrote a gushing profile of founder and trustee Ms Willis in The Daily Telegraph, nominating her as woman of the year for her achievements with Style for Soldiers. Here’s the online version: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/brands/meet-emma-willis-tailor-helping-injured-soldiers-regain-confidence/. Hardly an unbiased nomination. Yet the fashion director didn’t declare her own role at the charity, so readers had no idea of the ridiculousness of the situation.
  2. Almost exactly a year before, meanwhile, then chief reporter Gordon Rayner reported on Style for Soldiers in The Sunday Telegraph (20 December 2015). Again, here’s the online version: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/12058116/Style-For-Soldiers-how-a-charity-has-used-bespoke-clothes-to-restore-wounded-soldiers-confidence.html. Mr Rayner, you won’t be surprised to learn, failed to mention colleague Ms Armstrong. What’s more, an editorial that Sunday, too, plugged Style for Soldiers again saying nothing about the fashion director‘s position there.
  3. The Telegraph has given lots of publicity to Style for Soldiers, almost always failing to declare Ms Armstrong‘s involvement with the charity. Columnist Mr Moore is only continuing the tradition.
  4. Mr Moore hasn’t responded to requests for comment at date of publication.

Who funded latest BMS national PR campaign?

  1. Today (18 October 2017) is 2017 World Menopause Day, as Allison Pearson told readers in her Daily Telegraph column, er, today. She didn’t mention GP and menopause expert Dr Louise Newson this time, though (see previous post).
  2. To coincide with 2017 World Menopause Day, charity the British Menopause Society (BMS; registered charity number: 1015144) today released the results of an online survey it commissioned on UK women’s experiences of the menopause. “The findings reveal the need for greater support for women experiencing the menopause across the UK,” claims BMS. Here’s the press release, which shows the charity again used PR company Edelman: EMBARGOED-UNTIL-18-OCT-2017-00.01_BMS-Survey-Results-2017_Press-Release.
  3. BMS used Edelman for last year’s national PR campaign organised around a 2015 survey (see 17 July 2017 post). There I revealed who actually funded the previous PR campaign – three pharmaceutical companies: Novo Nordisk, Mylan and Pharmacare. Prior to my investigation, BMS hadn’t disclosed the funding sources.
  4. As today’s press release shows, the charity has again failed to be transparent about who’s funded its PR campaign. It says nothing about funding. Disappointing, but predictable.

The GP and menopause expert who plugs products, sometimes without disclosure of interest

  1. In Allison Pearson’s new novel, “How Hard Can It Be?”, Kate Reddy is back, now dealing with the menopause. The bestselling author devotes a paragraph in the acknowledgements to Dr Louise Newson, “an expert in hormone replacement therapy” (HRT). HRT is the main treatment for menopause. On 17 September 2017, Dr Newson gushed on Twitter: “This book [“How Hard Can It Be?”] is so enlightening and truthful about the menopause – I have so enjoyed helping @allisonpearson with it!” Later that day the GP and menopause expert re-tweeted Ms Pearson’s response: “You were so helpful. Gave me great confidence that what I was writing was true!” Yes, but Ms Pearson and her readers should be aware: Dr Newson is paid to promote HRT and other menopause-related products and services – but doesn’t always disclose her commercial relationships with the relevant companies.
  2. Ms Pearson and Dr Newson‘s mutual admiration continued in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, where the novelist is a columnist. On 2 October 2017, Dr Newson published an article again banging the drum for HRT, “Women need HRT, not antidepressants.” Again, the menopause expert was full of praise for “How Hard Can It Be?” and its author. There was even a plug at the end, proclaiming the book is available via The Telegraph website.
  3. Theres no suggestion Ms Pearson has been paid or received other material benefit to promote menopause-related products and services in her new book, which was published on 21 September 2017.
  4. True, Dr Newson declares her financial interests in a file on her website. But she only published the file after I contacted her to query the absence of the information on her site in relation to a particular company (see below). Also, the disclosures there are inadequate. Particularly concerning, though, is her non-disclosure when quoted as a seemingly independent expert in editorial articles in newspapers and on websites – or as author herself of such pieces. Here I discuss two examples. In the first, Dr Newson‘s promotional activities around menopause-related vaginal dryness and a new laser treatment, MonaLisa Touch (MLT). Then her work with US drug company Mylan, a major HRT manufacturer. In quotes for a recent national Sunday newspaper article, for instance, Dr Newson praised a new supposedly independent menopause website for the public – but failed to say Mylan was responsible for it. She didn’t reveal her commercial relationship with the drug firm, either.
  5. On 4 July 2017, Dr Newson published on her website, menopausedoctor.co.uk, an article by Jane Lewis on vaginal dryness. There Ms Lewis enthuses about treatment MLT. There’s two paragraphs about the laser treatment, and a link to a new website, takeoutthepause.co.uk (screen shots in Figure 1a and 1b).

    Figure 1a. Jane Lewis’ article, “Vaginal dryness – The last menopause taboo,” part one at 25 July 2017

    Figure 1b. Jane Lewis’ article, “Vaginal dryness – The last menopause taboo,” part two at 25 July 2017

  6. In her introduction, though, Dr Newson didn’t declare a relevant financial interest. She simply said: “Jane Lewis has written this article to share her experience and help to empower women and break this taboo. I am so grateful to her for allowing me to share this on my website.”
  7. Yet Dr Newson was working with MLT, raising awareness of vaginal dryness and promoting the company. Website takeoutthepause.co.uk, where she appears, is part of a PR campaign for MLT organised by ROAD Communications (screen shot in Figure 2). As you can see, ROAD put Dr Newson at the heart of the campaign.

    Figure 2. ROAD Communications PR campaign for MonaLisa Touch at 26 July 2017

  8. On the same day Dr Newson published Ms Lewis’ article, MLT UK expressly thanked Ms Lewis on Twitter for sharing her “story” via the menopause expert‘s website (screen shot in Figure 3).

    Figure 3. MonaLisa Touch UK thanks Jane Lewis for sharing her “story”: tweet on 4 July 2017

  9. After I emailed Dr Newson on 26 July 2017 to ask why she hadn’t declared her role with MLT when publishing Ms Lewis’ article, the menopause expert added a two-sentence comment at the foot of the article: “This is an independent review and the opinion of Jane Lewis. I have previously been reimbursed to provide advice on general menopause issues with regards to MonaLisa Touch (takeoutthepause.co.uk).” (screen shot in Figure 4).

    Figure 4. Jane Lewis’ article, “Vaginal dryness – The last menopause taboo,” part two at 1 August 2017 (cf. Figure 1b)

  10. In the same email on 1 August 2017, Dr Newson also brought to my attention the file on her website containing her declaration of interests: link on the “About Louise” page. Yet the file creation date reveals it was only created that day – 1 August 2017 (screen shot in Figure 5). In other words, after I’d first contacted her. The full filename, too, shows it was published in August 2017 (screen shot in Figure 6).

    Figure 5. Declaration of interests: file created on 1 August 2017

    Figure 6. Declaration of interests: full filename reveals publication in August 2017

  11. Also, the disclosures there are inadequate. The menopause expert simply lists companies with whom she has/had financial relationships (Figure 5). There’s insufficient detail.
  12. Following our email correspondence, Dr Newson arranged for a statement to be added to the MLT website, takeoutthepause.co.uk (screen shot in Figure 7). It wasn’t there originally (screen shot in Figure 8).

    Figure 7. Dr Newson on takeoutthepause.co.uk at 14 August 2017

    Figure 8. Dr Newson on takeoutthepause.co.uk at 25 July 2017 (cf. Figure 7)

  13. On 28 June 2017, Dr Newson published an article, “The A-Z Of Menopause,” on the Female First website, which clearly identifies her as “ambassador” for MLT (screen shot in Figure 9). Disclosure of interest, rightly, then. Yet no disclosure in another of her articles, in dluxe Magazine dated 11 August 2017, “5 Steps to Take the Pause out of Menopause,” where author Dr Newson refers to vaginal dryness, names MLT and lists takeoutthepause.co.uk (screen shots in Figure 10a and 10b). The headline of the article, of course, echoes the MLT website, too.

    Figure 9. Dr Newson’s article, “The A-Z Of Menopause,” published on 28 June 2017

    Figure 10a. Dr Newson’s article, “5 Steps to Take the Pause out of Menopause,” published on 11 August 2017 – part one

    Figure 10b. Dr Newson’s article, “5 Steps to Take the Pause out of Menopause,” published on 11 August 2017 – part two

  14. Dr Newson is on the board of the grandly titled Primary Care Women’s Health Forum (PCWHF), an organisation that falsely claimed to be a charity (see 17 July 2017 post). She’s lead for the West Midlands. PCWHF is “dedicated to the education and support of healthcare professionals across the UK caring for female patients,” says its website. On 21 July 2017, it published document Guidance on Diagnosis and Management of Urogenital atrophy or Genitourinary Syndrome of the Menopause (GSM)”: GSM-Guideline. Dr Newson and Dr Carrie Sadler wrote the guidance on behalf of PCWHF. As the overview explains, they use GSM as a more accurate term for menopause-related vaginal dryness. Although the authors fail to declare explicitly any relevant financial interests, the document carries five – yes, five – different brand logos, including pharmaceutical company Pfizer. MLT, though, isn’t one of them. Yet here Dr Newson was again raising awareness of vaginal dryness – while the medical face of MLT‘s PR campaign to do the same. Further, the guidance describes laser treatment, which “has been shown to lead to impressive results in some studies.” While MLT isn’t named in the document, the list of references includes a single study of laser treatment – one using MLT. It’s surely remiss of Dr Newson not to disclose her link to the company. In summer 2017, I complained twice to PCWHF via email about her failure in the guidance to disclose her commercial relationship with MLT. I didn’t receive a response either time. Nor did I hear from Dr Newson when I raised the omission in an email.
  15. Now to Dr Newson‘s work with Mylan, the major HRT manufacturer. On 17 July 2017, I exclusively revealed that the manager of the HRT portfolio at Mylan UK is a trustee of The Daisy Network, a charity providing “support, information and networking opportunities” to women with premature menopause (registered charity number: 1077930). For several reasons, I was concerned the charity is a front organisation for the pharmaceutical company. The Sunday Times newspaper reported my findings on 30 July 2017.
  16. It’s clear Dr Newson works with Mylan as she sometimes declares her relevant financial interest. But sometimes she doesn’t – and that’s the problem.
  17. First, examples of disclosure. The GP publishes four leaflets on her homepage: downloading them you discover Mylandeveloped and funded” two of them. These are “Menopause and Me” (remember the title) and “Menopause and Me: In the workplace.” Here they are: 00133-22-Menopause-Booklet-Update-AW-3-HR-FINAL-JAN17-1 and 00498-02-Menopause-and-Work-Booklet-V5-FINAL.
  18. For further information, Mylan on the back of each leaflet points readers to several websites, including Dr Newson‘s. There both state: “Please note: Mylan has had no involvement in any of the websites listed above.” This is self-evidently false – because in both cases the drug firm’s list of recommended “independent” websites includes, er, The Daisy Network!
  19. On 13 September 2017, meanwhile, Dr Newson spoke at a women’s health seminar for GPs, in London, organised by Pulse Learning Seminars – title of her talk: “Early Menopause: Do we need to treat it?” She was “supported by” Mylan, according to the day’s programme (screen shot in Figure 11). Two examples, then, the leaflets and the seminar, where Dr Newson declares her commercial relationship with the drug firm.

    Figure 11. Dr Newson’s talk for Pulse Learning Seminars in London on 13 September 2017: “supported by” Mylan

  20. Yet occasionally she doesn’t. Particularly concerning are some of her promotional activities for a new menopause website for the public, Menopause and Me: www.menopauseandme.co.uk. Sound familiar? Yes, Mylan created the site.
  21. On 2 July 2017, Dr Newson was quoted in a very troubling article in national Sunday newspaper, The People, “It’s time to change the face of our final taboo.” Here’s the online version: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/final-female-health-taboo-set-10720595. (Trinity Mirror publishes The People.) Author Caroline Jones describes “new advice website Menopause & Me,” which is designed to help women make more informed choices when it comes to managing their symptoms.” “Dr Newson is a wholehearted supporter of all such efforts,” writes Jones about the site. Yet neither the GP in her quotes nor the author disclose the fact that Mylan is behind the site. There’s no mention of Dr Newson’s commercial relationship with the drug firm, either. Itd be laughable if it wasnt so serious.
  22. At date of publication Dr Newson hasn’t responded to requests for comment via email about The People article.
  23. On 30 August 2017, Dr Newson was quoted in an article on the NetDoctor website, “5 unexpected symptoms of the menopause every woman needs to know about” (screen shots in Figure 12a and 12b). As you can see, there’s a plug for Mylan‘s new site at the end of the article: “Dr Louise Newson has been working with Menopause & Mea new website dedicated to supporting women throughout their menopause journeys.” At least this article discloses a relationship, if ill-defined, between Dr Newson and the site. But the fact that Mylan is responsible for Menopause and Me is omitted – as is the GP’s commercial relationship with the drug firm.

    Figure 12a. NetDoctor website article, “5 unexpected symptoms of the menopause every woman needs to know about,” published on 30 August 2017 – part one

    Figure 12b. NetDoctor website article, “5 unexpected symptoms of the menopause every woman needs to know about,” published on 30 August 2017 – part two

  24. A day before the NetDoctor article, author of The People one, Caroline Jones, again quoted Dr Newson at length, this time in the Daily Mirror newspaper (“Your guide to beating perimenopause blues”): Daily Mirror 29 Aug 2017. Although not plugging Menopause and Me this occasion, the GP reassures women on the safety and effectiveness of HRT – but again fails to declare any relevant financial interests. To treat vaginal dryness, meanwhile, the article advises use of a “good” vaginal moisturiser, naming a particular brand – Sylk. Sylk‘s logo is one of the five in Dr Newson and Dr Sadler‘s GSM guidance for the PCWHF.
  25. Dr Newson undermines both her and PCWHF‘s credibility by being paid to promote menopause-related products and services. What’s worse, she doesn’t always declare relevant financial interest(s). The egregious articles in The People and on NetDoctor deserve scrutiny for another reason: Mylan is the company involved.
  26. Mylan is unusual in the UK pharmaceutical industry because it isn’t a full member of trade association The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). ABPI members, for example, submit financial data to its Disclosure UK database: http://www.disclosureuk.org.uk. Non-member Mylan’s payments to Dr Newson and other healthcare professionals, and healthcare organisations are therefore hidden.
  27. Further, Mylan has a demonstrable track record in the UK of questionable practices in both its marketing of HRT to the public and its closeness to the menopause charities (see 17 July 2017 post). To that list can be added dishonest promotion of its new Menopause and Me website via editorial articles in newspapers and on websites. Dishonest because the editorial content hides the fact that Mylan is behind Menopause and Me; and there Dr Newson endorses the site without disclosure of relevant financial interest.

Director of fake company is official supporter of the Conservatives – and company claims backing of prime minister

  1. The director of a fake company was a signatory in its name to last year’s open letter to the Daily Telegraph from more than 5 000 small business owners backing the Conservatives before the general election. The letter, which the newspaper put on its front page 27 April 2015, was orchestrated by Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) and promoted by Karren Brady, the TV star and a Tory peer. Meanwhile, the fake company claims the backing of prime minister David Cameron.
  2. Abbey King Khawaja is signatory 671 to the Telegraph’s letter: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/11565080/The-5000-small-business-owners-supporting-David-Cameron-and-the-Conservatives.html. He signs as director of British Eco Power Ltd of London (screen shot in Figure 1). Yet there’s no company of that name registered at Companies House.

    Figure 1. Abbey King Khawaja: signatory 671 to the Telegraph's letter at 9 February 2016

    Figure 1. Abbey King Khawaja: signatory 671 to the Telegraph’s letter at 9 February 2016

  3. The British Eco Power website is elaborate and detailed: www.britishecopower.com. No registered company number, though. The website creates the impression British Eco Power operates across the world, working with international partners. But the partners page, including the right-hand “newsroom” section, is unchanged between 10 December 2012 (web.archive.org/web/20121210121915/http://britishecopower.com/partners.html) and 4 April 2016 (web.archive.org/web/20160404050000/http://britishecopower.com/partners.html). The exact two dates are arbitrary, just when snapshots of the page were saved in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.
  4. Mr Khawaja used to be a director of the firm Britsh [sic] Eco Power Ltd, whose name appears to be deliberately misspelled without the second “i” (registered company number: 08421038). He resigned as a director 6 October 2015. I can’t find a website for what’s a non-trading company, according to Companies House records. It has filed two sets of accounts there, both as a dormant company. In July 2015, Britsh [sic] Eco Power was nearly struck off the public register. Not a good sign.
  5. Back to the fake company. Mr Khawaja is politically well-connected, according to his biography on the British Eco Power website: “Abbey has supported the present Conservative Government as well as the Conservative Arab Network in London and has good relations with all leading UK parliamentarians, ambassadors and diplomatic community leaders in London.” (screen shot in Figure 2). Quite a boast. But the alleged political connections don’t end there. British Eco Power claims the backing of prime minister David Cameron (screen shot in Figure 3).
    Figure 2. Abbey King Khawaja biography at 9 February 2016

    Figure 2. Abbey King Khawaja biography at 9 February 2016

    Figure 3. Prime minster backs British Eco Power Ltd at 9 February 2016

    Figure 3. Prime minister backs British Eco Power Ltd at 9 February 2016

  6. I repeatedly rang the landline phone number – “for all worldwide enquiries” – on the British Eco Power website (screen shot in Figure 4) as I have a few questions. Yet there’s only a recorded message: “This is a digital mail dmClub phone number. It is currently unused and available for sale. For more information, please call 0870 446 0870. That’s 0870 446 0870.”

    Figure 4. Contact us page at 9 February 2016

    Figure 4. Contact us page at 9 February 2016

  7. I asked Mr Khawaja in an email to his personal address if he’d care to comment on the fact that his company British Eco Power Ltd isn’t registered at Companies House. In his same-day reply he wanted to know the reason for the enquiry. I said it’s illegal for a company to claim to be a limited company if the company isn’t registered at Companies House as a limited company. He wrote in his answer: “Britsh [sic] Eco Power Limited is legally registered in the UK”. That’s the company whose name appears to be deliberately misspelled without the second “i”. I then pointed out in another email that these are two different companies – but with confusingly similar names. I finished by asking: “Or have I misunderstood?” At date of publication I haven’t received an answer.
  8. This is the first time to my knowledge that an unambiguously fake company has been found on the Telegraph’s letter of support for the Conservatives from more than 5 000 supposed small business owners. Within hours of publication, dissolved companies and duplicate names had been identified: www.mirror.co.uk/news/ampp3d/truth-those-5000-small-businesses-5592693. Someone – Karren Brady? – should tell Number 10 that British Eco Power claims the backing of the prime minister.

Letter in the Daily Telegraph on how easy it is for small charities to avoid scrutiny

  1. On 9 September 2015, I had a letter published in the Daily Telegraph on how easy it is for small charities to avoid scrutiny. Charity fraud and abuse extend beyond fundraising.
  2. It’s available on the newspaper’s website: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/11851352/Letters-By-killing-terrorists-in-Syria-David-Cameron-protected-British-citizens.html.