X-files: the strange story of Wales Cancer Intelligence Unit
and how they raise the dead in numbers not even rivalled in biblical times...
report from Radioactive Times Volume 3, Number 1, March 1999 (content not updated)
In the BBC TV Wales documentary Sea of Troubles, 9 February 1999 the high levels of cancer near the Irish Sea coast (story in this issue) were addressed by Dr John Steward, Director of Wales Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit, WCISU and his statistician Ms. Helen Beer.
Figures for leukemia in the 0-4s based on WCISU data were contrasted with the Wales Cancer Registry data used by Green Audit. Clearly there is a large difference for leukemia in children! What is happening here? We do not know but would very much like to. Our enquiry begins by asking about the history of the demise of Wales Cancer Registry and its transfer to Dr Steward’s agency, the WCISU.
Dr John Steward (Director of Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit): We have strong reservations about claims which cause a lot of public anxiety and we've had to deal with these in that way. At the same time anyone who has legitimate concerns - we should look at those claims, but in this case we cannot confirm them.
JS: I would say there is absolutely no evidence to support Dr Busby's claims from the paper he has produced or anything that we could find out by our studies
The data used by Green Audit was given following a meeting between LLRC and Dr Deidre Hine, Chief Medical Officer of the Welsh Office and was extracted from Wales Cancer Registry database in May 1995 by Susan Frost. On 24 April 1996, following Chris Busby’s letter published in the British Medical Journal which discussed bone and other cancer increases in Wales, LLRC and MEDACT jointly organised a symposium at the House of Commons, The Health Effects of Low Level Radiation. Although revisions and revalidation of bone cancer data by the Wales Cancer Registry had resulted in close agreement between Strontium-90 doses 20-years earlier and bone cancer incidence in Wales, a second revision of this data was made and press-released to coincide with the symposium.
It showed that four-fifths of the bone cancer cases had vanished.
Curiouser and curiouser
Before anyone could ask how this had happened, with data that was up to 20 years old and for cases for whom no notes were available, Wales Cancer Registry was closed by the Welsh Office. A report on the bone cancer revalidation appeared magically some months after the press release and the closure of the WCR! Although the press were told that cancer registration was to be moved to the Velindre NHS trust, Dr Steward’s unit, the WCISU, did not appear on the scene until much later.
In the meantime, and of interest to this tale, data were collected by the Statistics Unit of the Welsh Office before WCISU took over. At this time Green Audit obtained a complete and separately extracted copy of the small area data including the year 1990.
WCISU is an agency: apparently, after the demise of WCR WCISU tendered for and won the cancer registration contract. David Adams Jones—ex-director of the Scottish Cancer Intelligence Unit and presently consultant to WCISU as a trouble-shooter—told LLRC that WCISU receive five times more funding from the Welsh Office than WCR were paid.
When Chris Busby began working on the WCR small area data for the Irish Government funded STAD case in 1997, he approached WCISU to ask for the population figures for the small Areas of Residence (AORs) used by WCR.
On the telephone and at a meeting in Cardiff, both Dr Steward and statistician Helen Beer professed to have no knowledge of the population, constitution or location of these AORs. Helen Beer even told Busby that she was having great difficulty finding this data herself as she needed it for her own work with WCR data. Of course, without population figures, cancer numbers are meaningless, and no investigation could go forward. In the event, Green Audit obtained the AOR data from the Office of National Statistics in Hampshire.
But Dr Steward knew all along.
In late 1997 John Steward mentioned to Chris Busby that he was the author of a 1994 paper published by the Welsh Office, A-EMJ-28 Investigation of the Incidence of Cancer around Trawsfynydd and Wylfa Nuclear Installations. This paper, which claimed to show that there was no increase in cancer near the two nuclear sites was analysed in an occasional paper from Green Audit in 1994. (copies available from LLRC). In it, Dr Steward used data and populations from the AORs he had later said he knew nothing about. It even had a map of the AORs! Perhaps he had forgotten this.
1994 paper shows coastal effect
Dr Steward’s 1994 study, focusing on the potential effects of Wylfa and Trawsfynydd power-stations, clearly showed, in Gwynedd, the disputed sea-coast effect. The figure below is plotted from the AOR-level all-leukemia all-ages Relative Risk figures worked out by Dr Steward and tabulated in his Welsh Office 1994 publication.
The 1994 Green Audit appraisal pointed out this effect. Why didn’t John Steward notice it then? Why does he dispute it now? This leads us to some other questions we would like answers to.
Scatterplot and local regression curve for RR of all leukaemia all ages by distance from the sea.
From data calculated by Dr John Steward using AOR populations and published by the Welsh Office in 1994 (A-EMJ-28)
Why, in the middle of an investigation into high levels of childhood cancer in Wales was the Wales Cancer Registry suddenly closed and its job taken by someone who had written a paper exonerating the nuclear power stations from causing cancer?
Why did the Wales Cancer Intelligence Unit publish a dataset in April 1998 entitled Cancer Registration in Wales 1974-1990 which was a revision of the Wales Cancer Registry volumes covering the same period. This WCISU document, using data according to the foreword, ‘extracted from the database’ by David Adams Jones, seems to have lost an awful lot of cases registered by WCR.
The trumpet shall sound
Between 1974 and 1988 over 3500 people had been restored to health, a feat worthy of the most outstanding of faith healers! Even Jesus himself never cured on this scale!
The loss of 3517 cases registered with cancer resulted from reductions in the numbers tabulated by WCR in every single year from 1974 to 1989 for both males and females. If this was due to revalidation i.e. discovery of errors in coding or duplicate registrations then there were none of these which involved an increase in numbers. Strangely, the greatest revisions were after 1986, the year of Chernobyl.
And how did WCISU, between January 1997 when they began work, and April 1998 when the publication was issued, discover that 3517 cases had been wrongly assigned in the16 years 1974-89, up to 24 years earlier by WCR, especially since WCR had already engaged in a revalidation exercise in 1995-1996?
Archaeology? Ouija? Tarot?
And this brings us to another question: where were the people living who were retrospectively brought back to life? Were they living near the Irish Sea, perhaps? Or near Trawsfynydd? Green Audit asked for a copy of the WCISU database version of the WCR database they hold, but this was refused on grounds that it was ‘confidential’
In this strange affair all the original actors involved in the old Wales Cancer Registry have been sacked or moved on. Dr Deidre Hine, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, who gave the data to Green Audit has been replaced by Dr Ruth Hall. Reg Fitzpatrick, Statistical Director and Dr Mary Cotter, Medical Director, Susan Frost, who prepared the data - all are gone. Even the data itself has gone: WCISU have discovered that the file itself has disappeared from the computer.
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