Earlier today I spoke in the debate on the motion moved by the Member for Bolton South East, Yasmin Qureshi, that "this House has considered the Expert Working Group report on hormone pregnancy tests". I was much moved by personal case studies raised with me recently by a number of constituents and I have endeavoured to contribute to or at the very least attend each debate on this topic. In closing my speech, I put to the Minister a "passionate plea—which I am sure many others share—on behalf of the victims of hormone pregnancy tests in the ’60s and ’70s. Let us introduce honesty, openness and, above all, humanity into the long-standing journey that those individuals have been on".
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for securing this vital debate on what, for many people, has been a long journey.
Sir William Osler, an eminent Canadian physician, once said:
“Medicine is the science of uncertainty and the art of probability.”
My constituents who took the hormone pregnancy tests of the ’60s and ’70s, including Primodos—which was removed from the market in 1977—have to date been met with uncertainty. They placed their trust in those involved in manufacturing, testing, prescribing and dispensing—trust that in their view, and in mine, was betrayed. With dogged but dignified determination, they still seek to confirm the probability of a possible connection between those drugs and birth defects and/or fatalities.
I understand that Professor Carl Heneghan carried out a meta-analysis that backs up the findings of Professor Vargesson’s zebrafish study. While I appreciate that meta-analysis is a complex and comprehensive tool, my layman’s understanding is that it may be undertaken to review and reconcile multiple research studies on the same topic with different results. In doing so, it may uncover a study that has different results due to systematic error or bias in the research process. In response to a recent question posed by the hon. Member for Bolton South East, the individual answering on behalf of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care stated that the Commission on Human Medicines expert working group did not undertake a meta-analysis as part of its review, citing different designs, lack of robustness and the extensive limitations of studies as the reasons therefor.
Dan Mayer’s text, “Essential Evidence-Based Medicine” advises the reader:
“Some common problems with meta-analyses are that they may be comparing diverse studies with different designs or over different time periods.”
However, importantly, the author does not appear to suggest that such circumstances should automatically rule out proceeding with meta-analysis. Rather, he states that such apparent divergence may be addressed by incorporating various checks and balances as part of that analysis. It appears that professors at the University of Oxford who have had sight of data recently recovered through a freedom of information request are yet again persuaded that there is an association between hormone pregnancy tests and birth defects, thereby casting doubt on the robustness of the EWG’s work and the material that it has published to date.
I note that the Government’s response referred to the European Medicines Agency’s ongoing independent review of the publication by Professor Heneghan and others, and I await the EMA’s conclusions with interest. Hopefully, those conclusions will finally bring some comfort to my constituents and many others. I ask the Minister to provide greater clarity as to why meta-analysis was ruled out by the EWG, and to confirm whether the EMA’s conclusions will be published next month. Finally, I make a passionate plea—which I am sure many others share—on behalf of the victims of hormone pregnancy tests in the ’60s and ’70s. Let us introduce honesty, openness and, above all, humanity into the long-standing journey that those individuals have been on.