Patients undergoing surgery are routinely given a beta-blocker in order to reduce stress on the heart-but the research that led to the adoption of the practice was falsified, and doctors reckon that 800,000 people have died as a result.
Beta-blockers, which are antihypertensives for lowering blood pressure, increase the chances of dying from a stroke or hypotension (dangerously low blood pressure levels) by 27 per cent.
Darrel Francis, professor of cardiology at Imperial College London, and his colleague, Graham Cole, have estimated that this raised risk has caused the deaths of around 800,000 around Europe in the past five years, including 10,000 Britons.
Their research paper, which reveals their estimate, was published on the website of the European Society of Cardiology's own journal, the European Heart Journal-but was removed within hours earlier this month. Journal editor Thomas Luscher said it had been a mistake to publish the paper.
It had been the ESC's own former chairman of its guidelines committee who had falsified the data that led to the adoption of beta-blockers for anyone undergoing any type of surgery. Don Poldermans, a former professor of cardiology at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, had published his influential paper in 2009, but it was discovered two years later that the data had been fabricated.
Despite the revelation, surgeons still routinely give beta-blockers to patients-and so, presumably, the death toll continues to rise.
(Source: Heart, 2013; doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2013-304262; Sunday Times, 26 January 2014)