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25/11/2001 - Mobile Telephone Health Research programme update

Mobile Telephone Health Research programme update - 13th November 2001

On Thursday the 8th November there was a scientific meeting to discuss the 'call' for the second tranche of the joint Department of Health and cellular industry funding into the possible effects on health of exposure to signals emitted by mobile phone handsets and their base stations.

Well, there were some short premature expositions setting out the areas of research the MTHR committee wanted to concentrate on for applications for this second round,but with little more substance than had already been on their web site for the previous few weeks. We certainly expected, and deserved, better than this.

There had been 86 initial expressions of interest in the first round and these reduced into 26 final, fully completed applications. The MTHR management committee had, so far, agreed to fund six of these but, "as contracts have yet to be signed, we can't even tell you what the subject areas of research are".
Eh, what what what? There was stunned silence among most of the scientists present. We had just traveled to London, some over long distances, to hear about the next round and discuss the scientific details - and yet we were left with an uncomsummated meeting. A black hole that absorbed(?) our concerns. How could we (or they) discuss future research when they won't tell us what they have already agreed to? Quite extraordinary and most unsatisfactory. I expected better from Sir William Stewart. We want actions, not just encouraging hot air verbiage.

The most worrying part of the the Phase II are the risk assessment priorities. If you read these carefully you will see that it has far more to with 'management of public perception', rather than any real risk benefit analysis. Although they told us that this wasn't intended to be the case, a number of the scientists that I talked to afterwards still had major misgivings.

Not the least of these was the strong feeling that the money pot was already running low. Shortly after the companies had agreed to pay the government £22.5bn for the 3G licences, the Stewart Report recommended a major research programme funded 50:50 by the Department of Health and the cellular industry. I said to a leading industry representative "that's a bit strong seeing as you have just paid them £22.5bn". He replied "Well it would seem churlish to say that and refuse to pay. After all, how much will the government put up? Say 10 to £15m. What's an extra 10 to £15m to us on top of the £22.5bn?". So what does the government put up - a miserly £3.6m, or 0.015% of the lucre that they had just unexpectedly obtained (they had thought the licences would sell for about £2bn (GBPounds) and not the 10-fold more of £22.5bn.

Now it seems that the MTHR finds that it doesn't have enough dosh. What a surprise. The rumours are that it will mean that it is mostly unlikely that we will get any epidemiological work around base station masts - one of the biggest public concerns.