NEWS

Were elderly used in illegal clinical trials?

The government has ordered an in-depth inquiry into the operations of all old-age homes in Greece after an inspection at the Athens Old Age Home found that residents had been subjected to clinical trials without their written consent. The deputy minister for health and social solidarity, Giorgos Constantopoulos, said yesterday that the inquiry into the Ambelokipi facility would go deep and an example would be made of everyone found to be responsible, «whether they be doctors or researchers or members of the (home’s) executive board.» This followed the leaking of a report by the Health and Welfare Inspectorate regarding illegal medical tests at the Athens Old Age Home. Constantopoulos declared that the files of all old age homes will be opened, stressing that there were complaints of more illegalities. The deputy minister yesterday passed on to chief prosecutor Dimitris Papangelopoulos the health inspectors’ report on tests on the aged and financial irregularities at the Athens Old Age Home. The inspectors’ final report is expected to be given to the prosecutor on Tuesday. The inspection began after the daughter of a resident complained that «strange» medicines were being given to the elderly. This followed complaints to the relevant department of the Athens Nomarchy (provincial government) which is responsible for supervising and operating such institutions. Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis told Mega Channel television that the inspectors began their inquiry in June 2003 and had recently completed their report. The inspectors found that the residents of the home were used – without their written consent – in a medical study regarding their lipidemic profiles which was funded by a pharmaceutical company. [The lipidemic profile determines a patient’s levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol.] According to Constantopoulos, the pharmaceutical company, which was not named, had opened a «department» in the Old Age Home. The residents also took part in a clinical trial concerning the resistance to penicillin of pneumonococcus (pneumonia bacteria), again without their consent. A special non-profit company had been set up to this end by doctors at the Old Age Home. It is noteworthy that yesterday the necessary clinical trial protocols which should have been submitted to the National Pharmaceutical Organization (EOF) had not been found. The Health Ministry inspectors’ investigation also focused on alleged problems regarding personnel, living conditions and the health and security of residents. The Old Age Home’s executive board, the university doctors who were conducting the trials and the pharmaceutical company involved have been called on to testify as witnesses in the probe. The Athens Old Age Home, like most such institutes in Greece, is operating without a permit. Health inspectors have found that they do not conform with the operational regulations set out by a law passed in 1995 and employ non-specialized personnel.