Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Briefings

A review of the major health stories in 2014

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 03 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6876
  1. Anna Sayburn, freelance journalist

Looking back on some of the key stories of the past year

January: Minimum alcohol pricing “sham”

What happened?

An investigation by The BMJ claimed the government’s consultation on minimum alcohol pricing was “little more than a sham.” The policy was announced in March 2012, but dropped after consultation in favour of a ban on below cost sales. The BMJ uncovered the extent of lobbying by the alcohol industry and questioned why the government had said it had no evidence that the minimum pricing deal would be effective.[1]

What happened next?

The current legislation has affected less than 1% of alcohol sales, according to a study. It found that the ban on below cost selling has had only “small effects” on consumption, while a minimum unit price of 40p to 50p could have had “approximately 40-50 times greater effect.”[2]

February: shelved

What happened?

The roll out of the controversial programme, to upload data from general practice patient records to a centralised database, was withdrawn after concerns about the security of the system and whether patients had been properly consulted.[3]

What happened next?

NHS England carried out further consultation over the summer. In October it announced that the programme would be piloted in 265 general practices to test ways of communicating with patients about the benefits and risks of data sharing and their right to drop out. Patients’ group Healthwatch England has warned of a need for a single opt out for all government data sharing projects.[4]

March: Fat and heart disease

What happened?

Dietary guidelines that urge people to eat less saturated fat to lower the risk of heart disease are not based on sound evidence, researchers writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine said. The team undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis, including 49 observational studies carried out in 18 countries. They found no association between saturated fat consumption and heart disease risk.[5]

What happened next?

The war on fat is far from over. A …

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