Monday, July 02, 2007

British medical bureaucrats defeated

Individualist doctor too successful -- and hounded because of it. My post of Jan. 23rd. details just how evil this witchhunt was

The head of the Government's fertility watchdog was under pressure last night to resign after raids on the clinics of Britain's most successful IVF doctor were ruled unlawful, leaving the regulator facing a legal bill that could exceed 1 million pounds. Warrants authorising the search of Mohammed Taranissi's two London premises in January were quashed yesterday by the High Court, after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) admitted that it had presented insufficient evidence to justify them. It had been investigating claims that the doctor had practised illegally without a licence.

The authority has agreed to pay most of Mr Taranissi's costs, which his lawyers estimate at 1.2 million - more than a tenth of the regulator's annual expenditure of 11.3 million - and its own costs are also thought to be substantial. As the HFEA is funded by the Department of Health and fees from clinics, the bill will be passed on ultimately to taxpayers and private infertility patients.

The HFEA's humiliation led senior doctors, MPs and patient groups to question the position of Angela McNab, the chief executive who ordered the raids and applied for the warrants. Lord Winston, the prominent fertility expert, said: "This is further evidence of the complete incompetence of the HFEA and the need for the workings of this organisation to be radically reviewed. With the loss of this amount of public money, the chief executive . . . will presumably need to consider [her] position." Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP, said: "There is a real question as to whether the admitted inadequacy in her evidence when obtaining the warrants and the error of judgment in failing to settle the case until now means that the chief executive's position is untenable."

Mark Hamilton, chairman of the British Fertility Society, which represents IVF professionals, asked the Department of Health to conduct a formal inquiry. "The regulator needs to be accountable, and it needs to maintain the trust and confidence of the sector," he said. "In this case, this has not happened. It is a matter of grave concern that so much money has been spent on something that has ultimately come to nothing."

The High Court ruling may also influence an HFEA hearing on July 13 that will consider the original allegations against Mr Taranissi and that could withdraw his licence to treat patients. His lawyers said yesterday that they would be applying for the return of all the documents that were seized illegally. The HFEA applied to search Mr Taranissi's clinics in January on the same day that a BBC Panorama documentary alleged that he had treated patients without a licence, a criminal offence. The authority was widely criticised by doctors for appearing to co-operate with the programme.

In March Mr Taranissi was granted permission to seek judicial review of the warrants, which he argued were "unjustified, disproportionate and unlawful". The High Court rejected a further claim that the HFEA had acted out of improper purpose.

Mr Taranissi said yesterday: "The events in January of this year were hugely distressing for those of our patients and staff who witnessed them. "I am obviously very pleased about the outcome, but continue to be dismayed that our regulatory body saw fit to present to the magistrates on the day of the raids information described by a judge at an earlier hearing as seriously defective and highly misleading. "The cost to the taxpayer of this exercise must be enormous. It grieves me that money, estimated to be in excess of 1 million, which could have been spent on research or genuine issues of patient safety has instead ended up in the pockets of the lawyers. "The whole episode raises serious public interest questions about the way the HFEA acted in this case."

The authority insisted the ruling would not affect its licence committee hearing on Mr Taranissi. "We would wish to stress that the HFEA acted in good faith, and on advice," a spokeswoman said. "Our aim is to protect patient safety and ensure patient choice and we regret any distress that may have been caused to Mr Taranissi's patients." Ms McNab was not available for comment.


British boycott call expanded

Delegates of UNISON, UK's largest trade union decided on Wednesday to declare "an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott" on Israel. UNISON said it supported "a campaign of sustained pressure to end Israel's occupation of Palestine." However, Wednesday's decision was only a watered down version of the original proposal. Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini said the current boycott was "less harsh but still problematic."

The sanctions that were not approved include a call to boycott products of Israeli companies as well as those produced by UK firms that trade with Israel. Another measure that was dropped was a call to cease investments in Israel.

Meanwhile, UK Minister of State for Higher Education Bill Rammell said this week that the British government was opposed to any academic boycott of Israel. At a meeting with MP Louise Ellman (Labor) and members of the Jewish Labor Movement (JLM), he pledged to help develop relations with Israeli and Palestinian academics.

There was "no justification for singling out Israel" with a campaign of boycotts, Rammell said, adding that such a campaign was inherently discriminatory and threatened to undermine social cohesion. "Education is a tool for increasing awareness and drawing people together," he said. "An academic boycott would drive people further apart and would not assist the peace process." Rammell said his department was prepared to host a seminar of Israeli, Palestinian and British academics. He invited the input of the JLM.

Universities UK (UUK), the executive of all UK university institutions and some colleges of higher education, had clearly opposed a boycott, Rammell said. UUK president Drummond Bone had made that clear on a recent visit to Israel, he said. Rammell said his department would continue to build better community cohesion through antiracist and multi-faith education and by working with other government departments.


Blair speaks out: "Tony Blair has launched a powerful attack on 'absurd' British Islamists who have nurtured a false 'sense of grievance' that they are being oppressed by Britain and the United States. In his most outspoken remarks on Islamists, the former Prime Minister warns that Britain is in danger of losing the battle against terrorists unless mainstream society confronts the threat. Blair's remarks, in which he also attacks some civil liberty campaigners as 'loopy loo', were made in a Channel 4 documentary recorded last Tuesday on the eve of his departure from Downing Street. 'The idea that as a Muslim in this country that you don't have the freedom to express your religion or your views, I mean you've got far more freedom in this country than you do in most Muslim countries,' Blair told Observer columnist Will Hutton, who presents the documentary. 'The reason we are finding it hard to win this battle is that we're not actually fighting it properly. We're not actually standing up to these people and saying, "It's not just your methods that are wrong, your ideas are absurd. Nobody is oppressing you. Your sense of grievance isn't justified."'

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