How dare you make life harder for mothers and children!

// 28 March 2012

Glass medicine bottles.jpg

Image shows old glass medicine bottles. Shared by Tambako the Jaguar

under a Creative Commons license.

Yesterday I got upset in a pharmacists’, because the patent medicine that always works for my daughter when she has a bad cold has been withdrawn.

When I asked why, I was prevaricated with, fobbed off and lied to, mostly by male pharmacists. I tried 5 different shops; same result. So I cried, because now my daughter must suffer, and as her mother I suffer when she does. Because men said so.

Somewhere, some EU or Government committee, comprised of mostly male vested interests, has decided that something that works in alleviating the symptoms of a bad cold, and making life more bearable for children and their mothers (who, let’s face it, are the ones who are usually there when a child is ill) must be withdrawn. Oh, and they have also decided that one of the reasons for its withdrawal is that too much might be harmful, or a dose in combination with other over the counter medication might be harmful, and that mothers are too stupid to realise this even if advised, and will over-medicate their children. Because they’re women. And women are stupid, aren’t they? And we must protect women from their own stupidity, mustn’t we?

Of course, I was told that “it’s for your safety and protection”. Classic response when patriarchy has made a decision that might just affect the well-being and comfort of women or children. Women aren’t clever or responsible enough to follow guidance on administering over the counter remedies, are they? So we must withdraw anything that actually alleviates pain or other nasty symptoms, because they might get it wrong. Are these remedies actually harmful? Have we been unwittingly over-medicating our children for years, or is it just more faceless state control and distrust of parents, especially mothers?

There has been a thread on the Mumsnet site about the sudden withdrawal of Medised, a children’s over-the-counter remedy for colds which contains paracetamol and an anti-histamine to unblock noses. It used to be recommended for children of all ages; I’ve given it to my daughter since she was a baby, always following the guidance on the enclosed leaflet especially about dosage and not combining it with other remedies. Gradually, as she has grown older, its usage has been forbidden for under-2s, then under-6s, now for anyone. Yet she and many of my friends’ children have used it occasionally all their lives without any ill effects. And none of the children’s mothers have managed to get it wrong.

But these faceless committees know better, despite the recommendation of many GPs to parents that this particular remedy is highly effective in helping children cope with the symptoms of a bad cold. You’d think GPs would know what they were talking about, wouldn’t you? But no, the committee rules supreme, again.

Interestingly, one of the side effects of the withdrawal of any over-the-counter remedy is that some people find out quickly and stockpile it; I’ve become aware of this particular one on offer for sale at extortionate prices. Interesting also to note that in Spain, for example, everything except antibiotics is available over the counter. Almost all remedies are stronger than in the UK and cost a fraction of a prescription charge.

If unable to go to Spain or other countries with similar policies on over-the-counter sales, people often buy remedies (drugs, after all, they’re all drugs) on the Internet. In the USA, people can buy a much wider variety of medicines over the counter; in the land of the free, the public demands no less; and Europeans can order on the net. Mostly this will be safe, but there’s always an element of uncertainty, if you buy drugs on the net, over what you’re getting. I’d do it for myself, but not for my child.

So what will mothers do? Well, we could clog up scarce NHS resources for what are, after all, minor ailments. Go to our GPs or A&E over any illness, when in the past we’d have dosed our child with an over-the-counter remedy and only consulted the GP or a hospital if the illness became worryingly severe. I bet the patriarchal committees will be very quick to criticise us for that approach!

In the past 10 years, there has been an increasing “elf and safety culture” approach to the work of these faceless committees who decide what we can and cannot buy to make our lives a bit easier if we, or our children, suffer from minor – but nevertheless distressing – illnesses. It’s senseless, given the shortage of public funds and the demands on the NHS. And it affects women more, because they are the ones who nurse sick children and they are the ones who cannot be ill themselves when they are often running homes and careers, or caring for others, in disproportionate numbers.

But most of all, this approach assumes that we are all stupid, that we cannot understand guidance, that we need to be not only told what to do, but also forbidden to do or have anything which might conceivably harm us in any way. Life is not risk-free, and we all need to make intelligent decisions based on acceptance of some risk.

But try telling a patriarchal committee that, especially if you are a woman.

Comments From You

Feminist Avatar // Posted 28 March 2012 at 10:34 pm

This change was caused because of a report of problems among children in the US, which then caused most of the English-speaking world to do their own studies. These studies concluded that such medicines didn’t work on children under six and that the potential side-effects (allergies, sleeping problems, hallucinations) out-weighed the benefits. It wasn’t because they didn’t trust mothers; it was because they followed the science (however patriarchal that might be). What the report said was that there was very few studies on the use of these drugs in children (which is worrying in itself, as we’re giving children drugs that have not been tested on them and working out doses based on what we give adults) and those that existed provided little or no evidence of their effectiveness in this age group; more problematically, the number of serious reactions (of which overdoses, ie human error, were only a tiny percentage) were large enough to raise red flags. The combination – no evidence of benefit alongside evidence of problems – was what made them come to this decision. Canada came to the same conclusion as the UK, as did the US. The change hasn’t become law in the US yet because their system takes so long, but many drug companies have voluntarily changed their labelling in advance of the law change. There is also little evidence of their effectiveness in over 6s, but the risk of serious reactions is considerably smaller, which they put down to larger body weight, the fact that they are ill less frequently (so take less), and also the ability of older children to verbalise when they have problems (so allowing faster treatment etc). [As a side-note, there is increasing concern over drugs for children more broadly, which is the bigger context for these decisions. In the past, it was enough that drugs were safe for adults and then we just reduced doses for body weights (especially as we were rightly reluctant to do testing on those that could not consent). Today, we think that this might be a stupid approach as children’s bodies work differently and so medicines work differently in their bodies. As we have become aware of this, we have started to worry more about what we are giving children and this has led to the review of a number of drugs as applied to children.]

I get that it is frustrating when the drug works for your children, but this is the same method that we use to keep children and adults safe when using all other medications. And, not that I think it makes any difference to the practice of patriarchy, but 9 of the 19 people who were on the committee that made this decision were women.

Sarah AB // Posted 31 March 2012 at 7:36 am

Excellent comment, feminist avatar.

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