A leading plastic surgeon who cast doubt on the effectiveness of a £125 “boob job” cream has been threatened with a libel action by the manufacturer, her solicitor said.
Dr Dalia Nield, a consultant at The London Clinic, was quoted in a Daily Mail article on 1 October as saying that it was “highly unlikely” that the “Boob Job” cream would increase a woman’s breast size.
The manufacturer, skin and beauty products company Rodial Ltd, claimed that the cream, reported to be a favourite with stars such as Scarlett Johansson, Victoria Beckham and Kelly Brook, could increase breast size by 2.5cm.
Dr Nield said: “As a surgeon I am well aware of the necessity for claims on medical products to be based upon rigorous scientific testing, as well as the possible dangers which can result from treatments.
“It is my duty to speak out when products making these claims are not backed up by evidence. The safety and health of people could be at risk if I cannot do this.”
Her solicitor, Robert Dougans of Bryan Cave LLP, who also acted for Simon Singh in his libel battle with the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), said: “Any reasonable person would interpret the correspondence from Rodial’s solicitors as a threat of a libel action.
“This should not happen to doctors and scientists. They should be in the laboratory or the operating theatre, advancing learning and treating people. They should not be forced to meet solicitors just because they speak out on matters of public health.”
Fazel Fatah, consultant plastic surgeon and President of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) said: “The BAAPS’ position is that doctors, who have duty of care to patients, and the public at large, should be able to give their considered opinions and show scepticism, without fear of libel suit, when concerns are raised regarding unsubstantiated claims about products or procedures that are sold directly to the public without available and verified evidence of efficacy and safety.”
The case is the latest of a series in which scientists have been sued of threatened with libel actions for questioning the evidence for medical claims.
Dr Singh, who was sued by the BCA after criticising the lack of evidence for chiropractic in the treatment of some infant disorders, said: “This is yet another libel threat that demonstrates that the Government needs to act urgently and radically to reform our libel law, which clearly silences critics on matters of public interest.
“In the last month, I have come across six new libel threats, which in turn means that the public only hears half the story.”
Consultant cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst is being sued by US-based NMT Medical for speaking about data from a clinical trial of a medical device, and was recently threatened with a second action by the same firm over comments he made on the BBC almost a year ago.
Dr Ben Goldacre was sued by a vitamin manufacturer for questioning claims about treating HIV/AIDS with vitamins.
Tracey Brown of Sense About Science, part of the Libel Reform Campaign, said: “With every week that passes we hear about yet more doctors and scientists who have been threatened with libel action.
‘Until we have a clear public interest defence scientists and medics will stop asking vital questions and the public will lose out.”
The Government has promised to introduce a stronger public interest defence for libel in its Defamation Bill, due to be published early in 2011, to protect discussions about science, evidence and health care from the stifling effects of the current libel law.
Dr Evan Harris of the Libel Reform Campaign said: “Libel threats by companies, against clinicians and researchers on a matter where the public interest demands the maximum possible scientific and media debate, can be seen as a form of bullying, and is why radical libel reform is both vital and urgent.
“The cases we hear about – where doctors and scientists, and the newspaper or journal, stand up to the threat of costly and uncertain court action – are only the tip of the iceberg because most will simply be forced retreat in the face of a libel suit.”