Tarred and feathered and power to the people

I just discovered something interesting. If you take a medicine and you have a dodgy reaction, there is a website where you can report it, under something called the “Yellow Card” system.

An apple a day...

This type of thing really appeals to me because what it does is to give people who are in receipt of medicines a means of passing on information, a crowd sourcing of information on side effects, rather than making everything the responsibility of the “people in charge”, in this case the doctors. This is not to say that I don’t trust doctors. Well, actually, to a certain degree it does say that I don’t trust doctors; to a certain degree I don’t trust anyone who is “in charge”, and in this particular instance, the known facts mean that this mistrust is well placed, but I’ll get to that shortly.

Essentially, what it does say though, is that I trust you, dear reader. You know what is best for you yourself more of the time than anyone in authority will ever know – or be able to help you with. When you are on a plane and the oxygen masks drop, you must always fit your own first; people in authority will always feather their own nests first. The only way you can get them to feather your nest first is if you happen to live in their nest and as they feather their own, it being yours too, you benefit (and if you are in your nest and an oxygen mask drops, hold on tight, someone has just tipped you out of your tree).

Doctors generally don’t trust patients. And with good reason, patients are stupid. If you are sent home with an open wound, you are given a written note not to stick anything into it. Why? Because some patients will sometimes use such a wound as an opening for purposes more… erotic. However, both doctor and patient tend to want the patient to at least get better. The doctor because that is her job and they have plenty of other patients, the patient because she wants to feel better (statistically, both doctor and patient are likely to be women. Because women are more intelligent than men and also more likely to be hypercondriacs). The desire for the patient to be cured is sadly not one felt by the pharmaceutical industry.

The pharma industry earns money off pain and illness. This does not make them bad, after all, they are normally not responsible for the pain and illness, however if you are in pain or are ill, they do see you through the same greedy eyes that Dracula does at a plump blonde peasant virgin. Not in a sexy way, more just as “supper”. Subsequently, they are less likely to put money into cures than treatments (once cured, you no longer need medicine); medicines for diseases of the developing world are less likely to be created than for the developed world (the patients can pay more for the drugs), and a drug that is old earns very little money (hence the global war against illegal drugs, most of which are more effective, have fewer side effects and are less addictive than their synthetic equivalent – Cox2 inhibitors, a class of pain killer, actually killed quite a few people, but morphine, an opiate, earns no money for the pharmaceutical companies). As such, there is a very good argument for putting public bodies like universities in charge of drug development, and not just because students are generally pretty keen to experiment with them.

My point though is that all people tend to act in their own best interests. This is not an argument for complete individualism. Being part of a society, most people’s best interests are to ensure that society works, and therefore altruism and looking after your neighbour is in your own interest too, but studies have shown that in groups of greater than about 120 people, societal bonds start to break down. However, this is part of a much wider argument. What this does mean though is that getting people to work together in their own interests is a great way to get a great deal done.

The Yellow Card system I mentioned earlier is a case in point. Most patients are unaware of this, and yet it is already yielding results. Not just that, it is believed that over 90% of Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs) are never reported on by doctors and health professionals. Essentially, by abdicating responsibility to those in “authority”, in this case, doctors, we are doing ourselves a massive disservice, because they can’t be bothered to report this stuff (there are no statistics as to whether these health professionals that don’t care were more likely to be men or women, but at 90% we can safely suggest that it is probably not a sex related issue. Unless most doctors are women and most patients are women, and the 90% refers to them. In which case, that would be terrible). If even doctors, people who are in one of the most trusted professions in the country, won’t act in our interests, why on earth would we expect politicians and bankers to?

I strongly believe in people power, but people power is not the same as people-in-charge power. Large institutions look after themselves. It is hypocritical to criticise the banks and not realise the problem endemic to them is the same as that found in any public body. Smaller institutions, both public and private, should be the goal for anyone with any belief in social justice. Unless you don’t trust yourself of course.

I trust me to make the best decisions for me. It would be hypocritical for me not to trust you to do the same for you too. The bigger you are, the more impact you can have on me, and if I’m not in your nest, mine is more likely to be tarred than to be feathered.


The Yellow Card System, to report ADRs


One thought on “Tarred and feathered and power to the people”

  1. ‘I strongly believe in people power, but people power is not the same as people-in-charge power.’

    < This!

    The Internet is awash with anti-big pharma guff… This is a sensible antidote.

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