Social Audit Ltd
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Mr Roy Alder, Head of Executive Support
Medicines Control Agency
Market Towers, 1 Nine Elms Lane
London SW8 5NQ 16 June 1998

Dear Mr Alder,

Four months have passed since I appealed Dr Jones' failure to respond to my request for some very basic information about the terms of the review he claimed was in progress in his letter to me of 5 December 1997. I am now writing to remind you that I have still heard nothing, notwithstanding the MCA's claims to offer a complaints' procedure which offers a "speedy and effective" and "full and swift response". I would appreciate, at least, a bulletin on Polly's health.

Rather than refer this matter to the Ombudsman - thereby giving the MCA respite for a few more months - I shall hang on. However, you should know that, if I have not heard from Dr Gordon Munro by the end of this week, I shall certainly forward papers to the Ombudsman after the event. This would seem sensible in view of the story so far:

5 December 1997  Dr Jones: "We of course carefully examine all emerging evidence and information relevant to the safety of medicines and are reviewing your article … We shall also be consulting widely with relevant bodies on this matter to gain their perspective on the view you have presented …"

16 January 1998  Social Audit: " …please could you arrange for me to be sent a list of all individuals and organisations the MCA has consulted to date … also any representative example of the letter the MCA sent to the bodies consulted, indicating alternatively whether the MCA solicited views on any particular points, and whether or not it sent copies or extracts of my paper to those from whom opinions were sought. I would be grateful if you could let me know in addition whether the MCA has offered to treat any replies to these enquiries in confidence and, if not, whether I might, in due course, have copies of them.

6 February 1998  Dr Jones: "We are seeking the views of a wide range of expert advisers and other relevant bodies, and we are asking for: (1) their perspective on the issues you have raised; and (2) any information they have which is relevant to these matters - to inform the review I mentioned in my previous letter. It is our normal policy for such correspondence to be treated as confidential ...(because) … disclosure of the replies we receive would harm the frankness and candour of advice and opinions given"

11 February 1998  Social Audit: "I asked for a list of all those consulted by the MCA before 16th January. You have not provided it, nor have you given any credible reason for the lack of response. Your excuse that "Disclosure of the replies we receive would harm the frankness and candour of advice and opinions given" is irrelevant here, since this request asks you only to identify those consulted, not to disclose their replies … Your response that you requested "their perspective on the issues you have raised" is ridiculously vague … You did not respond in any way to my enquiry about whether the MCA 'sent copies or extracts of my paper to those from whom opinions were sought'. I now wish to amplify this request to ask, in addition to the original question, [a] which if any extracts of my paper were sent to any of those you consulted and, and [b] if any extracts were copied, whether the Agency complied fully with copyright law?"

20 March 1998  Social Audit: "I have had no acknowledgement nor any response to my letter to Dr Jones of 11th February; both are now overdue"

25 March 1998  Mr Alder: "I am sorry you have not yet received a reply … I am afraid that a combination of pressure of other work within MCA and the detailed points you have raised means that it may be a little while yet before you are able to reply in full".

22 April 1998   Mr Alder: "Dr Munro's review of your appeal (11 February) is underway. You also asked some additional questions and, as they touch on this review, I will reply to these points once the review is complete".

14 May 1998  Social Audit: "I have yet to receive the MCA response to my Code request dated 11 February, asking just for the names of experts the MCA is supposed to have consulted. I can wait, but this and all the other delays fall well short of the 'speedy and effective' responses the MCA claims it gives.

1 May 1998  Dr Jones: "You mentioned that you have not had a reply yet to your Code request of 11 February. Mr Alder wrote to you on 22 April advising you that, as your request touched on the review of another MCA decision not to release information to you which is being conducted by Dr Gordon Munro, Head of our Inspection and Enforcement Division, we would reply on these points once the review has been completed".

3 June 1998  Dr Jones: " … how much longer will it take for the MCA to produce a half-way sensible response to the questions I raised (16 January) about the terms of this review"

Is this not an enthralling chronicle, given that it might have taken 30 minutes maximum to answer the questions I originally asked? I look forward to establishing how much longer the MCA is going to be able to spin things out. 

Yours sincerely, 
Charles Medawar    


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