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Patients and majority of GPs think medical research is biased

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Patients are more likely to trust advice from friends about medicines than scientific research, experts warn.

A survey found that 63 per cent of the public and 82 per cent of GPs are sceptical of claims made by drugs trials.

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Many have major doubts following a series of scares over the safety of HRT, cholesterol-busting statins and the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

The Academy of Medical Sciences, which carried out the poll, is calling for a major overhaul of the way patients are told about drugs.

They want the NHS Choices website to publish detailed information about the likely risks and side-effects of the most common treatments. In addition, they are urging GPs to hold longer appointments, particularly with older patients, to discuss any concerns.

In a report published today, the Academy surveyed 2,041 members of the public and 1,013 GPs about attitudes towards medical research. Just 37 per cent of the public said they would trust evidence from medical research while 65 per cent would trust experience from friends and family.

Surprisingly, 82 per cent of GPs said they believed medical research was biased in favour of drugs appearing effective and safe.

Author Professor John Tooke, former president of the Academy, said: "It's startling to hear that only about a third of the public trust medical research.

"Patients are struggling to make sense of the information they receive from their doctor, the TV, the internet and their friends and family about medicines.

"With our ageing population and ever more sophisticated treatments being made available, we need to act now to give patients clearer and more useful information about the medicines they take." He added: "We all need to make decisions about medicines at some time in our lives and this should involve the opportunity to consider which treatment will meet our individual needs. We will only succeed in making the most of the tremendous strides in medical science if we are also able to share knowledge effectively with patients to allow them to make the best decisions about medicines."

The report highlighted the ongoing controversy over statins, taken by six million Britons to lower cholesterol.

Academics claim the drugs could prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes a year.

Yet many GPs and patients are very worried about the long term side-effects, which include type 2 diabetes, and fear they have been underplayed by medical research.

Similarly, there is a continuing debate over the safety of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for the menopause and whether it causes breast cancer.

The NHS has claimed the benefits outweigh the risk, yet surveys have shown the majority of women are still very sceptical. And research in 2009 claimed that ‘more than half of children taking Tamiflu to combat swine flu suffer side-effects such as nausea, insomnia and nightmares'.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said: ‘Medical science is progressing at an unprecedented rate, opening up opportunities not only to cure certain diseases but potentially to prevent them ever occurring.

"It is vital that we find the best possible ways to use and communicate scientific evidence, so that progress may be translated into benefits for patients."

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