Margaret McCartney

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Full name: Margaret McCartney

Area of interest: Health - "the increased medicalisation of life, the certainty of uncertainty, and the ethics and dilemmas of medical research"

Journals/Organisation: Financial Times


Personal website:

Website: |






Education: Qualified in medicine at Aberdeen University, 1994

Career: GP based in Glasgow; has written for The Times and The Independent and wrote the 'Doctor's notes' column for The Guardian: Financial Times: columnist, 2005/2010

Current position/role: Freelance

  • also writes/has written for: British Medical Journal, Vogue, PulseToday

Other roles/Main role: General practitioner

Other activities:



Broadcast media:






Books & Debate:

Latest work: The patient paradox – Why sexed up medicine is bad for your health' – will be published by Pinter and Martin in January 2012


Current debate:

Journals :

  • No regular column

Articles: 2016

Articles: 2011

  • A test that creates more problems than it solves - No decision about me, without me". What does the Coalition's clarion call to patients actually mean? - 26th October
  • Drugs: The doctor's dilemma - Feature: When treating terminally ill patients, should medics prescribe expensive drugs that offer a few more weeks – or help them enjoy what time they have left, free from invasive treatments? - 28th September

Articles: 2010

  • Hits and misses - Observing the correct etiquette is very important. But even an excellent book doesn’t address all the dilemmas Mrs Moneypenny has found herself faced with during the shooting season - 20th November
  • The best medicine - In the last of her columns for the FT, Margaret McCartney looks back on the two most memorable insights of the last seven years - 25th September
  • Life without kissing - Is the mouth-to-mouth technique all it’s cracked up to be? Margaret McCartney examines recent studies that support compression-only resuscitation - 18th September
  • Age of innocence - A study in the US journal Pediatrics finds that girls are now likely to enter puberty sooner, and improved nutrition may be the cause - 11th September
  • The waking cure - Research shows that sleep deprivation can be medically therapeutic for people suffering from depression, mania and anxiety - 4th September
  • Safety in mind - The regulation of psychotherapists is long overdue: patients deserve to be protected, not patronised by those who claim to know best - 28th August
  • GP knows best - Information and knowledge are all very well, but there is nothing wrong with seeking the reassurance of a fully trained professional - 21st August
  • Brushes, not strokes - There appears to be a link between poor dental hygiene and cardiovascular disease, which may offer an insight into what causes heart attacks - 14th August
  • Follow the script - Why was premenstrual tension a problem a few years ago, but virtually ignored today? - 31st July
  • Of genes and genomes - Some are predicting that medical treatment can be personalised based on genes, but Margaret McCartney worries that this will produce more dilemmas rather than less - 24th July
  • Just forget it - The truth is that most people with memory problems do not have dementia and there is research to prove it - 17th July
  • Watch less, play more - England crashing out of the World Cup is good news for our health - 10th July
  • Stopping the clot - Are drugs to prevent blood clots in danger of being over-prescribed? - 3rd July
  • Toil and trouble - Margaret McCartney on the link between work and cancer - 26th June
  • After the fall - Falls are the most common cause of accidental death in the over 75s. The good news is that the NHS is now taking the cases seriously - 19th June
  • A dangerous cocktail - Why you should be wary of washing down medication with grapefruit juice - 12th June
  • That’s entertainment - Is television really the best cure for bored hospital patients? - 5th June
  • A fearful waste - In the face of sharp budget cuts health agencies should focus on treatable illnesses rather than perceived bioterrorist threats - 29th May
  • What’s in a name? - For doctors, getting a disease named after you is a big deal. But the process isn’t as simple as it seems - 22nd May
  • This way madness lies - Are we “psychiatrising” too much normal human behaviour? - 15th May
  • Pregnancy’s other tests - Are alcohol tests for expectant mothers a good idea? - 8th May
  • Who checked the list? - Can checklists for surgeons make operations safer for patients? - 1st May
  • Can exercise help with depression? - The physical benefits are clear, but can a workout really help you beat the blues? Margaret McCartney takes a look at evidence - 24th April
  • Peer pressure - Scandals highlight the importance of peer review in medical research - 17th April
  • The stork knows best - When it comes to finding out whether we are pregnant, it is our bodies, rather than expensive tests, that give the clearest answers - 10th April
  • The painful truth - Pain isnt’ all in the mind, but cognitive therapy can help us control it - 27th March
  • The sick note is poorly - Instead of confirming that a patient is unfit to work, doctors will use new ‘fit notes’ to point out what they are still capable of doing - 20th March
  • First, do no harm - Easing death is a physician’s duty, but the involvement of doctors in euthanasia will undermine what should be good medical care - 13th March
  • Pluses and minuses - Medical risk calculators can only be a part of, not a proxy for, a nuanced conversation between doctor and patient - 6th March
  • Mother’s ruin - The UK’s chief medical officer recently declared that children under the age of 15 should not be drinking alcohol. Margaret McCartney isn’t so sure - 27th February
  • Of moles and men - Why private or high-street clinics might not be the best place to assess moles - 20th February
  • The bigger picture - We need a rigorous evaluation of the different methods the government uses to reduce obesity - 13th February
  • The trials of age - Age changes much of our physiology, but older people are under-represented in clinical trials. A new scheme aims to correct this distortion - 6th February
  • Long-haul radiation - As the UK and US governments plan to tighten airport security, Margaret McCartney considers the adverse effects of CT body scanners - 30th January
  • The war on superbugs - When one bacterium is killed by drugs, it is usually replaced by a resistant strain. Margaret McCartney says reduced use of antibiotics would improve the situation - 23rd January
  • Leaf that brings relief - Sluggishness is the most obvious side-effect of taking cannabis, but Margaret McCartney says it may be no worse than the sedation delivered by strong analgesics - 16th January
  • C is for colds - Vitamin C might not be as good at curing sneezes and snuffles as we’d like to think - 9th January
  • Worth our salt - High salt intake is associated with higher risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, but Margaret McCartney finds it hard to avoid the ubiquitous food seasoning - 2nd January

Articles: 2009

  • Magical medicine - Doctors witness unlikely things every day, but is it too much of a leap of faith to call them miracles? - 19th December
  • Drugged and confused - Is dementia treatment too reliant on antipsychotic drugs? Margaret McCartney investigates - 12th December
  • A jab in the dark - The swine flu vaccine is welcome, says Margaret McCartney, but it is never going to be totally successful - 5th December
  • An ugly state of affairs - Cosmetic surgery has now become something acceptable, appealing – even fun. But Margaret McCartney says we have not even begun to consider the potential damage - 28th November
  • Trial by error - Margaret McCartney is astonished that for all the data collected in medicine the collection of better information on new drugs is not prioritised - 21st November
  • The real deal - Margaret McCartney finds mixed evidence about the effectiveness of incentivising patients to lose weight, stop smoking and eat more vegetables - 14th November
  • Screen test - The problem with screening for cancer is that because it sounds useful, we have difficulty in believing it when the evidence tells us it is not - 7th November
  • Myths of motherhood - A study that suggests the children of working mothers are ‘less healthy’ than those of non-working mothers is misleading - 31st October
  • The inner voice - Margaret McCartney is a follower of evidence-based medicine, but she also believes that there are times when we should let our guts lead - 24th October
  • Mindful, but wary - Margaret McCartney casts doubt on ‘mindfulness meditation’ – an intervention being touted in many areas of healthcare for its potential applications - 17th October
  • Out for the count - The population is allegedly in peril over the decrease in sperm quantity and quality, but Margaret McCartney wonders if the number of conceptions are being affected - 10th October
  • False economies - Cost-effectiveness calculations help patients make choices about healthcare, but such scores often raise more questions than answers - 3rd October
  • Don’t knock nurses - There is no doubt that bad nursing care is a problem, but it should not lead people to imagine hospitals staffed entirely by slapdash workers - 26th September
  • Crib notes - In the case of car beds, there seems to be evidence to suggest that the reclining baby is healthier than its propped-up counterpart - 19th September
  • Fatal flaws - Debbie Purdy’s victory in the debate on assisted dying has raised legal concerns and religious objections, but Margaret McCartney’s unease is far more practical - 12th September
  • Low teen spirits - Talking therapies for young people with depressive illness are worth trying, but antidepressants are an option, too. Margaret McCartney examines the risks - 5th September
  • Dem dry bones - Osteoporosis is a serious health problem, but some medicines used to treat it come with unpleasant side effects - 29th August
  • Young at heart? - Putting ages on faculties and organs is a curious trend, says Margaret McCartney, who doubts that complex health risk results can be crammed into a simple number - 22nd August
  • Just forget it - A simple test billed as a fast way to screen for Alzheimer’s disease might be useful to start early treatment, but Margaret McCartney sees a number of problems - 15th August
  • Bad news can get better - Even if you had one rapid HIV test that proved positive, you are still more likely not to have the dreaded disease than to have it - 8th August
  • - A swine flu self-diagnosis website may sidestep many of the problems associated with a pandemic, but it is not without flaws - 1st August
  • Tell It To The Bees - An affecting portrait of 1950s Britain as seen through the eyes of an unmarried GP - 28th July
  • Who’d be a guinea pig? - Margaret McCartney believes active and knowledgeable participation from patients could help shape the future of clinical trials - 25th July
  • High and dry - Margaret McCartney is astonished by the number of health professionals willing to assist in mid-air emergencies, but she also wonders about the equipment on board - 18th July
  • All at sea - It would be nice to think that medical research has got its act together, but Margaret McCartney says that standards are still nowhere near where they should be - 11th July
  • Baby talk - As some patients now elect to avoid a hospital’s antenatal ward altogether, Margaret McCartney wonders if the choice to have a high-risk home birth should exist at all - 4th July
  • One size fits all - The proponents of a tablet with several ingredients claim it will be the mother of all wonder drugs, but Margaret McCartney says it would rob patients of individual care - 27th June
  • The obesity paradox - Research has linked obesity to serious conditions such as cardiac disease and diabetes, but it has also been found to have advantages - 13th June
  • Never too late … - Getting rid of youthful bad habits in adulthood can have the significant impact of improving your health later in life - 6th June
  • Acupuncturing a myth - A study says simulating therapy with toothpicks works just as well in easing back pain, prompting more questions about the treatment - 30th May
  • The fashion for genes - While genetic tests can be diagnostic, genomes are rarely the sole cause of illness since environmental factors also play a part - 23rd May
  • Eye surgery? My view - Margaret McCartney decides to stick with her spectacles after finding out that the procedure may not be suitable for everyone and that it can cost thousands of pounds - 16th May
  • Masking the problem? - As questions raised by the prospect of a swine flu pandemic remain unanswered, Margaret McCartney doubts whether surgical face masks can reduce infection - 9th May
  • Trouble brewing - A recent study says that the temperature of tea could be a risk factor for oesophageal cancer. But this association is very hard to prove - 2nd May
  • Crossing the guideline - Margaret McCartney is alarmed that the chair of England’s new health regulator seems to have an unnerving faith in guidelines - 25th April
  • Abreast of the matter - The revamped UK Breast Screening leaflet should contain more transparent information about the pros and cons of the procedure - 18th April
  • X-rays exposed - We need to be able to use medical radiation – but we also want to avoid doing so unhelpfully or inappropriately - 11th April
  • Prostate troubles - Margaret McCartney is bewildered when the release of a study showing that prostate cancer screening is not that useful is followed by calls urging men to get tested - 4th April
  • The nipple effect - Having been told that gentle breast stimulation can induce labour, Margaret McCartney looks it up, along with other birthing tales that she frequently encounters - 28th March
  • In praise of wild swimming - Britain’s seas and rivers are often very cold and inhabited by incontinent life, yet Margaret McCartney shares the enthusiasm of outdoor bathers - 21st March
  • Weight of evidence - Reducing stomach size through bariatic surgery is often a successful treatment for obesity. Margaret McCartney examines the risks associated with the procedure - 14th March
  • Facts: the facts - Doctors rely on journals offering the best research, but it is important to be aware of all the findings, not just some of it - 7th March
  • To D or not to D? - Reports claim that vitamin D can prevent no less an evil than multiple sclerosis, but more research needs to be done - 28th February
  • The joy and terror of producing a libretto - Margaret McCartney is asked to write a piece for the Scottish Opera and decides it would be set in a hospital and tackle the relationship between a patient, her mother and a cleaner - 21st February
  • A test of tolerance - Prenatal screening only increases the stigma of disorders that may have little impact on a person’s ability to have a happy life - 21st February
  • Do St John’s wort and echinacea work? - The Prince of Wales’s organic brand, Duchy Originals, dispenses a line of herbal remedies on its website - 14th February
  • Are medical surveys good for our health? - The Biobank project aims to improve the ‘health of future generations’, but Margaret McCartney is concerned that results will just create more worry and stress - 7th February
  • Facing the facts about the MMR vaccine - Large-scale studies already show that the vaccine has no increased association with autism. More research is just a waste of resources - 31st January
  • Can cereals reduce high cholesterol? - Medication helps, but many people would, very reasonably, prefer to improve their diet than take a pill. This is where breakfast comes in - 24th January
  • Are big ears the secret of a long life? - There is a correlation between ear size and longevity, but it is unlikely that having larger ears is somehow the cause - 17th January
  • Why work is good for you - Getting out of bed early to go to work after the holiday season can be tough, but money is not the only benefit that results from being employed - 10th January
  • A pill for shift workers’ sleep problems? - A study has found modafinil improves psychomotor vigilance in people who work too much at night but do not get enough sleep. But Margaret McCartney wonders if a drug is the right solution - 3rd January
  • Stay healthy in 2009 (in 10 easy steps) - For next year, Margaret McCartney suggests skipping unnecessary pills and medical tests and replacing them with daily walks, dancing and a dose of social justice - 2nd January

Articles: 2008

  • Pitfalls of a health column - After finding out that her advice had caused problems for some readers Margaret McCartney vows to be cautious about even the most seemingly sensible suggestion - 27th December 2008
  • World’s poorest left out from breakthroughs - There are not really that many breakthroughs in medicine yet the things of greatest impact to its practice are not evenly distributed - 20th December 2008
  • Excutive health checks raise questions - Doctors who are supposed to act in the best interests of the patient wind up acting in the interests of the company paying for the tests - 13th December 2008
  • Drink and be merry – just don’t overdo it - Chronic overuse of alcohol leads to social difficulties and even early death, says Margaret McCartney, who is promoting enjoyment that need not lead to dependency - 12th December 2008
  • What the NHS can learn from organ donors - There are people who are willing to sacrifice time and comfort in order to make a significant difference to a stranger - 6th December 2008
  • Hard choices on hormone replacement therapy - Doctors are now reluctant to prescribe HRT, once hailed as the first-line and most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms in women - 29th November 2008
  • Is paracetamol still safe for children? - Recent studies are saying that ibuprofen is more effective and safer in treating infant fever, but Margaret McCartney is having second thoughts about switching - 22nd November 2008
  • Why randomised trials still work best - In spite of flawed tests due to faults in design, execution or analysis, they are still necessary. But more, we need critical common sense - 15th November 2008
  • A CT scan is not the answer - There is no quality trial evidence to show that this procedure can reduce mortality. Moreover, it uses X-rays that have the potential to damage healthy tissue, especially in cumulative doses - 8th November 2008
  • Dealing with the fall-out - Psychotherapy offers help for those facing the financial crisis, but indiscriminate use may actually do harm to patients not suffering from disorders - 1st November 2008
  • Vaginal cosmetic surgery - Surgeons are cashing in on women seeking to improve their intimate aesthetic appearances with a designer vagina that may come with risks but no clear benefit - 25th October 2008
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation - Graduated exercise is one of the best interventions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but some health authorities have yet to fund it - 18th October 2008
  • Second opinion: No easy hypertension treatment - Clinical studies have investigated various treatments for high blood pressure, yet there is still uncertainty about which drugs work best - 11th October 2008
  • Home health check - There is no fixed threshold for ‘high’ blood pressure. But there is evidence that frequent readings, taken at home are more reliable as they also reflect the effect of stressful moments in ordinary life - 4th October 2008
  • Do the claims for neuro-linguistic programming stand up to scrutiny? - Some techniques claiming to be neuro-linguistic programming may appear to succeed only because they resemble cognitive behavioural therapy, a widely practised psychological method - 27th September 2008
  • Is being vegetarian good for you? - Studies on the relationship between diet and health are often conducted retrospectively, which can cause problems since responses are affected by ‘recall bias’ - 20th September 2008
  • Is warming up before you exercise a waste of time? - Warm-ups and cool-downs prevent injuries, but it is not clear whether either routine does us any good - 13th September 2008
  • Do infertility treatments work? - A study indicates that for some patients clomifene citrate, a drug that stimulates the ovaries, is no more help than ‘expectant management’ - 6th September 2008
  • Screening may do more harm than good - A US government health body says that doctors should stop offering prostate-cancer blood tests to men over 75 - 30th August 2008
  • Why flu jabs for kids could protect the elderly - There have been several reports that vaccinating some of these ‘high risk’ groups does little to cut the chances of complications from the disease - 23rd August 2008
  • Are statins for everyone? - As more and more people take the cholesterol-lowering pill, Margaret McCartney wonders if it could indeed help reduce the risk of heart disease - 16th August 2008
  • Can Viagra work for women? - Sex sells. I suppose this is why the results of a study entitled “Sildenafil Treatment of Women with Antidepressant Associated Sexual Dysfunction” were reported with great enthusiasm around the world after they were published - 9th August 2008
  • Second opinion - Four out of five people in Britain will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives, according to an estimate from the Health and Safety Executive - 2nd August 2008
  • When tests do more harm than good - Ever more medical tests are becoming must-haves. Now the glomeruli, the hardworking but scarcely acknowledged filters of the kidney, are at last to have their 15 minutes of fame - 26th July 2008
  • A final prognosis - This is my last column for FT Weekend so, taking the opportunity to look forward, here are 10 health-related subjects to watch - 19th April 2008
  • Risks and rewards on trial - In clinical trials, what outcomes should we be most interested in? Put simply, if a study talks about outcomes such as death or quality of life, I am likely to read on. If it doesn’t, I might not - 14th April 2008
  • In harm's way? - Child protection is not a medical speciality for the faint-hearted. The people doing this work, typically paediatricians who have undergone focused training, can be subjected to abusive language, threatening telephone calls and worse - 5th April 2008
  • A case of water on the brain - Water is a fine drink. I like it best when frozen into cubes and added to gin, but it is also good when taken fresh from the tap. It is better for teeth than sugary fizz or cordial. It is cooling, refreshing and life-sustaining. In other words, none of what follows should be taken as disapproval of water - 29th March 2008
  • If it's in the mind, it's still the real thing - Medically unexplained conditions are common and frequently contentious. Conditions such as myalgic encephalitis (also ME or chronic fatigue syndrome), fibromyalgia (a disorder where pain is felt at various points in the body), repetitive strain injury and irritable bowel syndrome are comparable in that they do not have a diagnostic test, and are usually diagnosed by a process of exclusion. Additionally, none has a clear pathological or biochemical abnormality - 22nd March 2008
  • As simple as A, B, C? - The classification of illegal drugs into classes of A, B and C might be good for Administration, but it is also rather Bewildering and Confusing. This categorisation allows judges to hand out consistent sentences for those in possession of illegal substances. But since the order is also meant to suggest ascending harm, I’m not sure that it’s helpful - 15th March 2008
  • The end of ‘normal’ sadness - “The drugs don’t work”, according to recent newspaper headlines: some antidepressants are no better than placebos. This raises important questions not just about the treatment of depression, but also about its diagnosis - 8th March 2008
  • The real agenda? It’s a sell-off - The issue of opening times at general practices has become a cause célèbre. It is a strange debate, though, because we are tied up in arguments about access and totally missing the real (but obscured) point - 1st March 2008
  • Something in the water? - More fluoride should be put into Britain’s drinking water, according to health secretary Alan Johnson. Money has been earmarked for health boards wishing to do so. In some parts of the UK, fluoride occurs naturally in the water supply; in others, such as the Midlands, it is already added to water supplies - 23rd February 2008
  • The case for screening. Almost - I recently described Gordon Brown’s proposals that screening tests should be offered to well people as “almost all nonsense”. The “almost” came back to haunt me; what, e-mailing readers wanted to know, was not nonsense? I will try to explain - 16th February 2008
  • Carrying on professionally - The medical profession is a hotbed of sexual attraction, lust and debauchery, and not just around Valentine’s Day. Not for nothing does Mills & Boon, international publisher of romantic novels, have a section devoted to the medical love genre - 9th February 2008
  • Body of so little evidence - The General Medical Council was established by parliament in the Medical Act of 1858. All those wishing to call themselves medical doctors had to be on the GMC’s register - 2nd February 2008
  • Fiddling while Rome burns - Medical research needs regulation. After all, the history of medical research is not altogether honourable – from scandals over plagiarised research to research that was never done in the first place to entirely dreadful experimentation on prisoners - 26th January 2008
  • The bottom line on weight loss - I try my best never to weigh myself. If I really want to know whether my curves are in proportion, I take my own specially devised Chloé jeans test - 19th january 2008
  • Keep politics out of the NHS - A new year brings the traditional political punch-up over the National Health Service - 12th January 2008
  • Alternative but exciting! - After a series of columns I wrote last year that were rather unsympathetic to the cause of alternative medicine, it was suggested to me that if I ever did find something that was alternative and worked, then I should prove myself open-minded enough to write about it - 5th January 2008

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