Medicine and Healthcare News: Why you can’t trust the media
Those of you who have read my articles on drug company fraud should appreciate this little article tucked away in the business section of the NZ Herald.
You might wonder why an article like this does not feature in the front section, where most people would read it. It details the fines paid by another giant drug company for outright fraud. The fines are enormous, $1.72 billion to US state and central government and another $485 million in criminal fines to boot.
It is good that this story has been reported, but as far as the media is concerned, this will probably be the end of the matter. No one in the media wants to take on drug companies in their editorials for two reasons, firstly they are scared of being sued and secondly Johnson and Johnson is a major advertiser in New Zealand. To back this up, a few years ago I wrote a piece for the Herald, it was about the death toll from another drug scandal, Vioxx. Vioxx killed between 60,000 and 120,000 people from heart attacks and strokes, it was just a drug for arthritis pain relief. During the protracted editing of this article, the Herald told me it had to go to their lawyers three times and they had ‘blown their legal budget’.
It is simply much easier for the media in New Zealand to go after people who can’t defend themselves, such as the case of the iridologist and natural health practitioner Ruth Nelson who has been persecuted by the media since 2010. In short, she treated someone who had a cyst on their head which grew and grew until she was basically untreatable. It was the perfect story to put the boot into the natural health industry at a time when vested interests wanted to regulate our industry out of business.
Ruth Nelson was accused everything from negligence to murder by some, a Radio Live interview with Professor Shaun Holt (of Victoria University) started by stating that she has not referred her client to her doctor (factually inaccurate, as you will see), instead choosing to treat the patient herself. In essence she was painted as completely irresponsible and direct culpable for her client’s death. One of the comments by Professor Holt indicated he felt people like her should be charged and jailed, citing an Australian example.
For three years she has put up with all of this, made out to be public health enemy number one. At the time I recall thinking she was irresponsible and was giving the industry a bad name as well, all because of how this story was reported. Ruth Nelson was never given a chance.
Well, its three years on. In a case that was brought by the Health and Disability Commissioner, Ruth Nelson has been cleared of virtually all wrongdoing – 7 of 8 claims were dismissed. It was found that Ruth Nelson told Mrs Maine it was out of her league, that she needed surgery and to go to hospital. The patient Yvonne Maine had a fear of hospitals and refused to be referred, leaving Ruth Nelson to do her best to clean the wound (which she did out of compassion). Mrs Maine’s daughters tried many times to get her to go to hospital but she steadfastly refused. The tribunal described Mrs Maine as a stubborn, difficult and manipulative individual who may have lied to her daughters as to what Ruth Nelson had actually said. Ruth Nelson did her best in trying circumstances with a patient threatening self-harm if she did not continue to provide treatment.
So, why exactly was this story spun so viciously by TV One and the Herald, Stuff, Blogs etc.? Why was Ruth Nelson’s version of events never given the airtime they deserved and why are we only finding out the truth after 3 whole years? Three years in which this 72 year old woman was made a pariah.
Because the New Zealand media is not about the truth, it’s about agenda. The mainstream medical profession is never truly held to account for their wrongdoing, drug companies are never grilled as to drugs that don’t work, or their fraudulent research (which is the norm, not the exception). No one every questions why we train such a limited number of specialists or one of the real reasons healthcare is so expensive – the enormous salaries of medical professionals (often more than twenty times the average wage).
You will never get the truth about medicine and healthcare from the media. Conflicts of interest abound, they all need those advertising dollars from the likes of Johnson and Johnson. Negative stories like the Herald article are briefly reported, tucked away in the business section. Stories that should be full blown front page mega scandals are instead treated leniently and tend to be brief affairs. Compare these to the number of negatively spun stories about Ruth Nelson and the contrast couldn’t be clearer.
If I met Professor Shaun Holt in person, I would ask him whether his time spent protecting us from the unscrupulous providers of medical care is best spent vilifying a 72 year old woman, or whether he thinks drug company fraud might be a more fitting target for someone of his formidable qualifications. I do note however that he put out a press release stating his surprise that natural therapies (including fish oil) are probably the best option for people suffering depression, better than Prozac in fact. It is encouraging that mainstream medicine is finally acknowledging what we have said for years.
Daniel King, MSc (hons)