Will you live longer with a drug plant next door?

You can always tell when big organisations are having a problem selling something controversial. They start playing cunning little tricks, such as dropping sly subliminal advertising lines into discussions that have no apparent connection with the product they want to flog.

And yes, Imperial are up to that too. Nick Bosanquet, the college’s Professor of Health Policy, was at Kent County Council for a debate on health last month. You can read the report itself (summary: health is a good thing, and we should all have more of it, though quite how is another matter) here. Interestingly, right in the middle of banging on about NHS shortfalls and — my own mental health will surely go swiftly south if I read this cliched drivel one more time — ‘centres of excellence’, Professor Bosanquet dropped this little beauty…

Pfizer in Sandwich is a very positive force and if Imperial College comes to Wye, it could be expected to be an asset too.

Really?

There’s not the slightest evidence to back up this idea in KCC’s report of the meeting, and I for one would love to know where Prof Bosanquet dreamed up this notion. You can find a summary of health statistics for the Dover area (in which Sandwich resides and Pfizer is a major employer) here. The biggest effect I’ve noticed this gigantic drug company have on the area has been the appalling traffic jams generated every time the Pfizerettes try to drive home. So bad is the road situation there that the company has reportedly fallen out with the local council over the cost of building new carriageways to try to solve it.

But what the hell. If you live longer, healthier lives because you have a drug company on the doorstep, who cares?

Statistics

Except you don’t. The average life expectancy for males in the south east is 77.4 years and for women 81.6. In Dover, you can look forward to a little less than that: 76.2 and 80.6 respectively. It gets markedly worse when you look at the general health statistics. Some 66.4 per cent of the Dover population are judged to be in good general health, compared with 68.6 in England and Wales, and 71.5 per cent in the south east. Dover also beats the south east and England and Wales by miles when it comes to the number of households with one or more people with a limiting long-term illness, and the number of people of working age with a limiting long-term illness.

In short, living near Pfizer means you’ll be sicker, not healthier. There’s no reason to think these two facts are linked. But to say, as Imperial’s professor does, that Pfizer is a ‘positive force’ in the health of the area seems to defy the known statistics produced by the government itself, and looks remarkably like little more than a plug for a company which will be a commercial partner in Wye Park if it happens.

Being a mere naive layman I thought science was supposed to be about the facts…

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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