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You'll have to excuse me: I'm in a bit of a rush. I'm off to the chemist. You see, according to the front page of the Daily Express, ‘Aspirin cuts risk of dying by 25%’. I'm off to get stocks in, because no one wants to die do they? And if I'mone of the lucky one in four, then think what I can save on life insurance premiums. Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science column in the Guardian, memorably wrote that the Daily Mail divides all substances in the world into those that cause and those that cure cancer. Only such a bimodal worldview could think up such a stupid headline.
In the rush of the chattering classes to criticise the Daily Mail, and I'm well up in the forefront, it's easy to overlook that the Daily Express is actually a far worse newspaper. When they have nothing else for the front page, they print the latest ‘evidence’ that MI6/Prince Philip murdered Princess Diana. No matter that drunk plus too fast plus no seat belt add up quite well, the conspiracy theorists can make everything look suspiciously sinister. One can understand Mohamed Al-Fayed's non-acceptance; after all, he lost his son. But do Express readers really believe the conspiracy?
The facts behind their aspirin splash are, unsurprisingly, complicated. It was a good study, but enrolled only women, in fact, only nurses. It was not an intervention study but an epidemiological one. The effect was on death from all causes and contradicts previous randomised controlled trials. As the authors were careful to state, and the Daily Express to underplay considerably, it is association not causation and there are all sorts of possible confounding factors.
And now the bad news that the NHS has miraculously come within budget this year and so our beloved Secretary of State for Health can hold onto her seat. Of the possible ways they might have done it,1 they chose distorted accounting, moving money from such ready sources as what was supposedly put aside for study leave. I have just seen a letter circulating in our Trust, asking medical staff to realise that the year ahead will be difficult. The main difficulty at the moment is whether, come August, the MTAS/MMC process will deliver any trainees at all. The news even reached us on holiday in New Zealand, and is prompting an active recruitment drive for doctors to go and work there. Listening to the dawn chorus in New Zealand is better than aspirin any day.