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Nuffield Launches Inquiry into Private Health MOTs

27 April 2009
Appeared in BioNews 505

The UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent group of experts, is launching a new inquiry into the growing - and largely unregulated - provision of medical services through the Internet and by consumer-targeted businesses. The multi-disciplinary group of experts will look at patients' experience of services including DNA profiling, body imaging and online self-diagnosis. The panel will also approach direct-to-consumer diagnostic service providers.

The project grows out of concerns over the effectiveness of a fast growing market in consumer-oriented health services and aims to make recommendations as to how the providers of these services and information might be effectively regulated so as to protect the consumer.

The panel will be led by Professor Christopher Hood of Oxford University, who states that the problems caused by unregulated health services goes beyond the potential to create unnecessary distress and is increasingly presenting the NHS with an additional and unwelcome burden. As well as having to spend resources and time reassuring the 'worried-well', it is also falling on GPs to treat the side effects of drugs purchased without prescription from online 'pharmacies'.

While certain DNA tests have been shown to reveal the presence of risk factors for a range of medical conditions, private providers are offering many other tests not deemed appropriate for use by the NHS. Other services to be investigated include the provision of CT (computerised tomography) scans to healthy patients to pre-emptively check for tumours. This procedure results in many healthy patients being exposed to unnecessary radiation and thus in fact increases their risk of developing cancer.

As Professor Hood notes: 'Cutting out the GP may sometimes be a good thing, providing us with convenience, privacy and control over our health. But there is not much regulation of these new services and we may be getting information that causes more harm than good.'

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