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Letter to Professor the Lord Winston, House of Lords

Colin Downes-Grainger
March 6, 2009

Professor the Lord Winston
House of Lords

6 March 2009

Dear Professor Winston,

I am writing this to you because I have been impressed over the years by your open minded approach to medicine and because I was struck by your statement on the size of the blood transfusion treatment scandal following Lord Archer's report. That has been a sorry affair, particularly for those who received the contaminated blood and I understand why you would describe it as “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS”. But I believe that in fact there is an even worse 'treatment disaster' which has been 'managed' and largely hidden for nearly 50 years – the tranquilliser scandal.

Over the years more than 2 billion prescriptions have been issued for these drugs and there are today on the estimate of Professor C.H. Ashton at Newcastle School of Neurosciences, around 180 tranquilliser dependent patients per GP practice – a total of between 1 million and 1.5 million patients. Most of these patients have been dependent for decades. Dr John Marsden who is a Government Adviser on Drug Addiction, and senior lecturer in addictive behaviour at the Institute of Psychiatry, said of these drugs in November 2007 on Channel 4:

"If any drug over time is going to just rob you of your identity and be an ironic reaction to early effectiveness, [leading] to long, long term disaster, it has to be benzodiazepines."

Many people have commented over the years on how destructive these drugs are in over-prescription and Dr Marsden is merely the latest, but as with the haemophilia disaster, successive governments have refused to hold any inquiry and have refused to introduce measures that would control prescribing. Today, following years of non-effective action and rejection, government appears to be following the line (expressed in a letter from Health minister Rosie Winterton), that patients should be tarred with the same brush as illegal users.

There is no closure for benzodiazepine victims, no recognition of the damage that has been inflicted on them, no support in withdrawal, no economic support and no apology.

I am enclosing a piece I did recently, drawing some parallels between the situation experienced by haemophiliacs and that faced by tranquilliser victims and I hope you can find time to read it. Obviously I cannot expect you to take up arms against this sea of troubles, but I would like you if possible to become aware of another NHS scandal – one which has so far had no positive outcome for patients.

Yours sincerely,

Colin Downes-Grainger
March 6, 2009

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