Sarah Wollaston

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Sarah Wollaston is the Conservative MP for Totnes. She entered Parliament at the 2010 general election, the previous MP, Anthony Steen (Conservative), having stepped down.

Dr Wollaston holds degrees in medicine and in pathology. She has worked as a GP and a police surgeon.[1]

Dr Wollaston has stated that she does not sign Early Day Motions "because EDMs now cost around £1 million per year to administer and have no chance of changing the Law"[2]. Hence her not signing a motion gives no indication as to her stance on the issue.


In an interview in the Daily Telegraph (1st September 2009) Wollaston talked about her view relating to alcohol and binge drinking:

"I just don't think that there are enough people in Westminster who can read a scientific paper. There is no scientific evidence that education programmes have any impact on binge drinking – yet, governments throw money at these, presumably because it looks like something is being done. Where there is a wealth of decent published evidence however, the findings are that availability and pricing are the areas that make a difference."[3]

Skeptical blogger Keir Liddle discusses evidence-based alcohol policy here.


In an interview in August 2009, Wollaston was asked if she thought the current 24-week time limit on abortion should be lowered. She replied:

"I am strongly pro-choice as far as abortion is concerned and do not think that the law should be changed from the current limit. From my own experience as a doctor, I know that women never take this decision lightly and that late terminations are the exception rather than the rule. Lowering the limit would restrict the ability to carry out terminations for those who are often in the greatest need and I would not support it."[4]

While Wollaston did not justify her stance based on rigorous evidence, her conclusion can be seen as in-line with The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report of October 2007[5] had found no good evidence of change since the 24 week limit was set in 1990, and hence no new reason for a reduction (issues included foetal viability and perception of pain). The report did, however, acknowledge that the scientific evidence was only one of many factors to be taken into account when legislating, and did not make any recommendations as to how MPs should vote.

In September 2011, Parliament debated Health and Social Care Bill amendments from Nadine Dorries and Frank Field which would prevent abortion service providers from also providing counselling. Abortion rights campaigners feared that groups with an anti-abortion agenda would step in to provide the counselling service previously provided by organisations such as BPAS and Marie Stopes. During the debate Dorries mentioned increased rates of mental illness following abortions. Wollaston responded:

"My hon. Friend has twice quoted the Royal College of Psychiatrists and asserted that there is a much higher rate of mental illness after termination of pregnancy, but the RCP has made it clear — any Member can look online at the draft of its very comprehensive evidence review — that we have to compare like with like. In other words, we have to make a comparison with rates of mental illness after unwanted pregnancy. Looking at the rates after unwanted pregnancy, we see that there is no difference between the rate of mental illness after termination of pregnancy and live birth. Indeed, the biggest predictor of mental ill health after a termination of pregnancy is whether somebody was suffering with problems beforehand."[6]

Following the debate Wollaston voted against the amendment[7].

Mitochondrial Donation

In February 2015 Sarah Wollaston voted in favour of allowing mitochondrial donation, which would allow women who carried mitochondrial diseases to give birth to children who would not inherit the disease[8]. An October 2014 briefing report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which had been investigating the issue for three years, stated that there was no evidence to show that mitochondrial donation was unsafe[9]. However, some religious groups had said that such procedures should not be allowed[10]. After clearing both Houses mitochondrial donation is now legal, regulated by the HFEA.

Pharmaceutical Industry

In October 2012, Dr Wollaston tweeted:

Travelling home from speaking at world mental health day reading #BadPharma chilling read from @bengoldacre agree action long overdue[11]

Later that month she asked an Oral Question to the Secretary of State for Health:

"What his policy is on making available all information about the results of clinical trials to patients, doctors and medicine approval bodies."[12]

Norman Lamb responded:

"The Government support transparency in publishing results of clinical trials, and they recognise that more can, and should, be done. In future, greater transparency and the disclosure of trial results will be achieved via the development of the European Union clinical trials register, which will make the summary results of trials conducted in the EU publicly available. Greater transparency can only serve to further public confidence in the safety of medicines, which is already robustly assured in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. By law, the outcomes of clinical trials undertaken by companies must be reported to that regulator, including negative results.

Dr Wollaston then asked:

"I thank the Minister for his answer and for recognising that missing data from clinical trials distorts the evidence and prevents patients and their doctors from making informed decisions about treatment. Will the Minister meet a delegation of leading academics and doctors who remain concerned that not enough is being done to see how we can ensure that all historic and future data are released into the public domain?"

Mr Lamb agreed to a meeting with experts and either himself or Lord (Frederick) Howe.

In December 2012 Dr Wollaston was one of six MPs to write a joint letter to the Public Accounts Committee to request action on hidden trial data and specifically Tamiflu.[13]

Assisted Dying

In June 2014, Dr Wollaston spoke in a House of Commons debate on health at the start of a Parliamentary session. She mentioned the Assisted Dying Bill:

"… Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill would enable competent adults who were terminally ill to have assistance to end their lives, but it would require the involvement of a medical practitioner. Although the Bill comes under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, it would have profound implications for end-of-life care and medical practice. It would fundamentally change the relationship between doctors and patients. There is a risk that the right to die would slide into a duty to die. I have seen how often patients who are towards the end of their lives fear being a burden on their families, and they often go through periods of profound depression. I do not feel that this Bill is the way forward."[14][15]

Medical Innovation ("Saatchi") Bill

On 9th June 2014, Dr Wollaston spoke in a House of Commons debate on health at the start of a Parliamentary session. She mentioned the Medical Innovation ("Saatchi") Bill:

"I will briefly put some of my concerns about the Medical Innovation Bill on the record while there is time for it to be amended. I have no doubt that it was introduced with the best of intentions to bring forward innovative treatments. However, I fear that it will have the reverse effect: it could undermine research and open the door to the exploitation of people when they are at their most vulnerable.
"Currently, clinical negligence law provides redress for patients who have been harmed as a result of treatments that would not be supported by anybody of medical opinion. There is insufficient evidence that doctors are not introducing new treatments or are put off from doing so because of the fear of litigation. The NHS Litigation Authority has made it clear that doctors are protected from medical litigation in that respect. However, the briefing note for the Saatchi Bill talks about a doctor being able to use a novel treatment if he is “instinctively impressed” by it. In other words, doctors will be able to use an anecdotal base for treatments, rather than a clear evidence base. There are dangers in going down that route.
"There have been some amendments to the Bill. Lord Saatchi has accepted that a doctor should have to consult colleagues and their medical team, but not that they should consider a body of opinion or consult ethics committees. I fear that we could be turning the clock back. We should rightly be proud of the advances that we are making in the field of medical research. We should rightly be proud of the push towards greater transparency, particularly in respect of open data and drug trials. However, I fear that if we allow people to access innovative treatments that have no evidence base, we will open the door to the purveyors of snake oil, rather than those who want to allow patients to enter controlled trials to establish a clear medical evidence base.
"We should not underestimate the extent to which the purveyors of snake oil are out there. I put on the record my congratulations to Westminster city council and its trading standards department on fighting two successful prosecutions under the Cancer Act 1939 against two individuals, Errol Denton and Stephen Ferguson, for peddling so-called nutritional microscopy to people who were at their most vulnerable—cancer patients and patients with HIV—and telling them that it was an alternative to evidence-based treatments.
"We must therefore be careful in how we move forward with such legislation. We should take more notice of the concerns of the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, who feel not only that the Bill is unnecessary, but that it could turn the clock back on evidence-based medicine. I hope that the Government will look at the concerns that have been expressed about the Bill in its current form."[14][15]

The same day she tweeted:

"The medical 'innovation' bill could be renamed the 'medical anecdote bill' it undermines evidence based research & treatmt @StopSaatchiBill"[16]

On 9th December 2014 Dr Wollaston called an adjournment debate on the topic of Patient Safety and Medical Innovation in which she spoke extensively against the Medical Innovation Bill. The whole debate can be read at Hansard or

In February 2015 Dr Wollaston was one of five MPs from Parliamentary groups related to medicine to sign a letter to the Telegraph on the subject of the Medical Innovation Bill that stated:

"We support the purpose of the Bill – to encourage responsible innovation in medical treatment – but the Bill itself is misconceived in fact and law.
"Parliamentary scrutiny demands evidence. There is no evidence that doctors are deterred from innovating by threat of litigation: nor is there case law where innovating doctors have been sued in negligence."[17]

Quarantine for Ebola Aid Workers

December 2014:

Alternative Medicine

CAM for cancer

In March 2012 a cancer conference in Totnes promoting various complementary/alternative therapies[18] came to Dr Wollaston's attention (possibly via this tweet: On March 19th the MP stated that she had referred this to Trading Standards[19], and the media reported that Trading Standards were investigating[20]. A few days later it was reported that the event had taken place, but the town council had withdrawn permission for the organisers to use the Civic Hall for the event, the event date had been moved and the most controversial speaker had not attended[21].

Remark on Totnes as a "centre for complementary therapy"

In reporting the above events, a local radio station spoke to Dr Wollaston, and it was reported that she said:

"I reported Dr Hopwood to Trading Standards as I wanted them to investigate whether this puts cancer patients at risk at a vulnerable time in their lives. I am also concerned that Totnes’ reputation as a centre for complementary therapy could be undermined and hope that other practitioners will also complain to trading standards."[22]


In a series of tweets in June 2012, Dr Wollaston first responded to a suggestion to use homeopathy to treat malaria with the comment "Dangerous claptrap"[23], elaborating "There is no evidence that #homeopathy can treat malaria or any other life threatening disease. Substitutes for effective treatment kill"[24]. She then tweeted that "evidence based medicine has saved millions worldwide from tetanus, diphtheria, polio, congenital rubella to name but a few..."[25]. Responding to a comment calling homeopathy "people & earth-friendly" she noted "except when dangerous claims made about success. If people then don't use an effective evidence based treatment it may kill"[26].

April 2013 on homeopathic "vaccines" for measles: "Most homeopaths do encourage parents to vaccinate alongside the use of homeopathy. Given the current outbreak in Wales, it is also time for their their governing bodies to issue an unequivocal statement that homeopathy offers no protection whatsoever against this serious illness."[27]


Blog post from (undated, but content indicates from time of consultation launch - April 2012?)

In July 2013 the coalition government announced that it would delay the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes, awaiting feedback from the introduction of plain packaging in Australia. Critics linked the delay to government connections with the tobacco industry (e.g. through Lynton Crosby[28]) and wondered how long legislation might be delayed. Following the announcement Dr Wollaston tweeted (twice):

"R.I.P. public health. A day of shame for this government; the only winners big tobacco, big alcohol and big undertakers"[29][30]

Same-Sex Marriage

In March 2012 Dr Wollaston posted a blog entry outlining her views on same-sex marriage, stating that she had received letters and e-mails on the proposed legislation. She wrote:

"I feel that marriage is a lifelong commitment to another person and that it should not matter how a person loves, more that we recognise the validity of their commitment. I do not believe that the purpose of marriage needs to be linked to childbearing although I realise that there are many people who do and neither do I feel that the term marriage should belong to any religious faith.
"The Government do not propose to alter religious marriage in any way. We are talking about civil marriage ceremonies — the sort currently conducted in registry offices, country houses and hotels. Civil marriages can't happen inside a church now and won't under the proposals.
"People who are gay should be allowed to celebrate their love and commitment in a context that society understands. Civil partnerships do play a valuable role and we have made great strides forward in recent years but if we deny gay people marriage we are continuing a cycle of prejudice that in my opinion devalues their relationships."[31]

Dr Wollaston subsequently voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at both its second reading in February 2013[32] and its third reading in May 2013[33].

Wearing Veils

September 2013:

Bovine TB/Badger Cull


Climate Change and Energy

Blog post on Solar Power Arrays, July 2013:

Posts on wind turbines:

Mandatory Work Scheme

In June 2012 Dr Wollaston tweeted a few remarks following the posting of this article: Full conversation:

‏@lecanardnoir --- Will the Tories follow their own evidence or their dogma? (I'm not really asking.)[34]
@drwollastonmp --- @lecanardnoir would you judge any major trial after only 3 months Andy or allow assessment of early identified problems?[35]
‏@lecanardnoir --- @drwollastonmp Of course not. I hope there is a strong commitment to keep testing. But all parties are very poor if evidence drifts away...[36]
‏@lecanardnoir --- @drwollastonmp Labour had their own dogmas where evidence was not welcome![37]
@drwollastonmp --- .@lecanardnoir looking at ways to get long term unemployed back into jobs isnt about dogma its a route out of poverty & improves self esteem[38]
‏@lecanardnoir --- @drwollastonmp There are elements though that have been indistinguishable from giving large employers cheap labour though.[39]
‏@lecanardnoir --- @drwollastonmp If the policy as enacted does not work then taxpayers are just subsidizing corporate profits.[40]
@drwollastonmp --- @lecanardnoir surely the dogma would be in thinking that very short term programmes designed to break cycle of worklessness must be full pay[41]
@drwollastonmp --- @lecanardnoir They have supervise/ train and have significant costs themselves. Disgraceful rhetoric about 'slavery' from some quarters[42]
‏@lecanardnoir --- .@drwollastonmp How well do you think the coalition is doing in assimilating evidence into its policy decisions?[43]

Steiner Free Schools

In October 2010 Dr Wollaston posted a blog post on Steiner schools:

"Whilst the philosophy behind Steiner Education may not suit those who seek a more conventional curriculum, there is much to commend and certainly room within our education system for more choice. Students in year 10 were keen to defend the benefits of their curriculum and I know many local parents as well as teachers at the school will welcome their bid for free school status so that Steiner Schooling is open to all, rather than restricted to those who can afford to pay."[44]

In February 2012 Dr Wollaston spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on cycling in which she mentioned the cycling scheme of a Steiner school in her constituency and paid tribute to an initiative of the parents.[45]

Some skeptical views on Steiner schools:


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  15. 15.0 15.1
  27. (frozen:
  31. (frozen:

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