News in brief UK police probe trial On Sept 1, the police began preliminary inquiries into alleged forgery of signatures on consent forms for a UK trial. The trial, done at the North Staffordshire Hospital Trust between 1989 and 1993, compared continuous negative extrathoracic pressure with standard positive pressure ventilation in preterm babies (see Lancet 1999; 353: 685). An independent inquiry into the trial is already underway. The hospital denies the allegations. India tightens drug approval The Indian government has amended the definition of “new drug” to include devices such as skin patches and implants. They will now need the approval of the Drug Controller of India, and same procedure that is followed for approval of new drugs will apply. Rules have also been changed to prevent misuse of new drugs imported as “gifts” but used for clinical trials without the Drug Controller’s permission. UK “truth protectors” On Sept 1, the UK government ordered all health authorities to appoint “protectors” to deal with whistleblowers’ concerns about malpractice in the National Health Service. Each protector will be responsible for implementing new government guidelines which include measures to protect against victimisation and prohibition of “gagging” clauses in contracts. Rabid bear alert Health officials in Iowa, USA, are trying to contact hundreds of tourists who played with a rabid bear cub at a petting zoo near Clermont. The cub died on Aug 27, and a local vaccination campaign was launched over the following days. Efforts are underway to contact other zoo visitors from other countries. Costly bare cheek A psychiatrist and a cardiologist agreed to pay £150 each to the “poor box” of the District Court in Cork, Ireland, on Aug 31. Both men had been charged with being intoxicated and running naked through the streets of Cork when celebrating the cardiologist’s stag night. Both defendants apologised to the court for their behaviour.
THE LANCET • Vol 354 • September 4, 1999
Concern over “Chernobyl-like” disease in Ireland detected at advanced stages, and octors in the Dundalk area on they are following a similar trend in the northeast coast of Ireland Belarus and the Ukraine. have expressed concern over the Although no direct link has very high rates of cancer in the been found between area. They have also increased cancer risk pointed out that and exposure to radiadisease patterns in tion from Windscale, patients exposed to local doctors say more radiation after the research needs to be Chernobyl nuclearcarried out. “We have power-plant disaster one of the highest are similar to those of cancer rates in the patients in Dundalk. country and a large Mary Grehan who number of people in has done a number of their 30s are now dying studies into medical from the disease”, said abnormalities in Grehan. Dundalk since the fire “We do not know more than 40 years ago what the cause of the at the British nuclear Source of the problems? problem is but when plant Windscale—now you look at the list of possibilities, known as Sellafield—said there are a the Sellafield Plant sticks out like a number of shared health problems sore thumb. We cannot find a solubetween the people in the Dundalk tion until we know what the problem area and those in Belarus and the is, and if research shows it is not Ukraine. These include high levels Sellafield, then we have to find out of stillbirths, miscarriages, and birth what it is”, she said. defects, together with record rates of cancer. According to local doctors, cancer cases in Dundalk are being Karen Birchard
Canada sends out urgent appeal for blood
anadian blood officials are urgently pleading for donors after banning donations from anyone who spent more than 6 months in the UK between 1980 and 1996. Fearing that blood supplies may dwindle because of their decision to screen out donors who may have contracted variant CreutzfeldtJakob disease (vCJD), Canadian Blood Services (CBS) is sending letters to all donors and bolstering its advertising campaign in hopes of offsetting a projected 3% drop in donations. Although CBS had been considering a complete ban on blood donations from all people who travelled to the UK, or a ban on donors who had spent a cumulative period of 1 month in the UK since 1980 (see Lancet 1999; 353: 1775), it announced on Aug 18 that it had opted for a 6-month cutoff for fear that more stringent policies would have decimated the national blood supply. However, Hema-Quebec has adopted a 1-month cutoff, in large measure because fewer of the province’s donors travel regularly to the UK. Federal Health Minister Allan
Rock said the ban was necessary despite the lack of evidence as to whether vCJD, which can incubate in the human body for 15 years, is transmissable through blood. “It’s a theoretical risk because no one’s ever proved that it happens”, Rock told reporters. “But we’re erring on the side of safety.” Although CBS officials project that only 20 000 individual donations from the annual total of 650 000 will be affected by the new policy, critics are concerned that total may rise to 15% as donors rule themselves out because they cannot remember how many weeks they have cumulatively spent in the UK. In a gesture of protest, former president of the Canadian Hemophilia Society Durhane Wong-Rieger resigned from CBS’s board earlier this summer, citing his fear that the ban will result in the loss of lives among Canadians who rely on the blood supply. However, CBS officials say that they are developing contingency plans in the event of a critical shortfall. Wayne Kondro