HOSPITAL: Evidence is unscientific

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As a resident of Rothbury, I was personally shocked last year when the hospital beds in Rothbury were closed without warning.

Last week, however, I was professionally shocked when I attended the meeting at Morpeth Town Hall where the future of the Rothbury Hospital was decided.

For most of my working life I was involved in medical research and the practical decisions that flow from it. What I witnessed at that meeting broke every rule in my book.

Many questions have been raised, and were raised again at the meeting, about problems that the people of Coquetdale might suffer without the beds in Rothbury. So what was the answer? It was to look retrospectively for evidence of whether any problems had been flagged up since the beds have been closed. None was found.

In the world I worked in, that kind of retrospective, unco-ordinated, informal investigation on an unsuspecting experimental population would have counted for nothing.

As things worked out, it seems that the Rothbury beds were closed as an experiment without telling the people of Coquetdale that they were being studied and evidence of harm to patients was sought.

The study was carried out without writing a protocol, without planning in advance what outcomes would be evaluated, without ensuring that the study and data would be sensitive enough to provide reliable information on the questions of interest, and without specifying how the data would be collected and analysed. Unscientific.

Had anyone involved with this exercise ever carried out properly managed and peer-reviewed research?

The results were useless, essentially anecdotal and potentially misleading.

At the meeting one of the board asked if the basis they had been given for their decision was adequate in a world of ‘evidence based medicine’. They were politely reassured – seemingly a showcase for the audience, not a real conversation.

Both questioner and respondent should have known that this evidence did not even get to square one for supporting decisions about the treatment of patients. If they did not know this, then they should not be making such important medical decisions on our behalf.

It is to be fervently hoped that this unsupported decision will not stand, but will fall, either at the next stage or at a subsequent legal challenge, partly because of the unscientific nature of the evidence on which it is based.

Dr John A Lewis,