Homeopathy and the NHS

July 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm (Alternative Medicine, government, Homeopathy) (, , , )

A letter to my MP regarding the government response to the Select Committee’s evidence check on homeopathy.

I am writing to you with regard to the recent response of the government to the Science and Technology Select Committee report into homeopathy.

The response includes this:

There naturally will be an assumption that if the NHS is offering homeopathic treatments then they will be efficacious, whereas the overriding reason for NHS provision is that homeopathy is available to provide patient choice

Though they highlight one of the dangers of NHS provision of homeopathy – the legitimisation of a bogus therapy – the government seems to have decided that ‘patient choice’ is more important than that (or any other) concern.

I find it bizarre that patient choice can be used as justification for the provision of an utterly implausible remedy, based on sympathetic magic, which the best available evidence shows to perform no better than placebo.

I am also curious as to how the government came to the decision to continue to allow provision of homeopathy on the NHS given that, prior to the election, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats apparently opposed the spending of public money on inert treatments.

The Liberal Democrats, responding to a question from the Guardian, stated that they would seek a full review of CAM therapies and that, having taken advice on efficacy, would take the position that treatments that do not perform better than placebo should not be funded by the NHS. [The Guardian]

The Conservatives’ response to the same question included the comment that it would be “wholly irresponsible to spend public money on treatments that have no evidence to support their claims” [The Guardian]

Edit, 6th August

My MP, being a good constituency MP, responded promptly to my letter and is chasing a response from the Department of Health. Four days before I contacted my MP, I emailed my local Primary Care Trust to ask if they had a policy on homeopathy. They have yet to acknowledge my email.

As (a) I am impatient and (b) I have already waited eleven days without receiving any response, I decided to use the What do they know website to submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

I would like to ask whether Bradford and Airedale PCT have a policy on the funding of homeopathic treatments.

I would also like to know much funding has been allocated to homeopathy by Bradford and Airedale PCT in each of the last five years.

A footnote:

A search of the PCT’s website yields only one result for “homeopathy” (and none for “homoeopathy”). Here’s the PDF I found: Outcome of Consultation. There were 63 respondents – 61 patients, the YOR Local Medical Committee, and a private homeopath. Of the sixty three respondents, only one requested a homeopathy service – the homeopath.

This made me wonder how much truth there is in the claim that “the overriding reason for NHS provision is that homeopathy is available to provide patient choice“. Perhaps it is less a case of “patient choice” and more a case of appeasing lobbyists who have an interest in homeopathic ‘remedies’?

Edit 12th August

I’ve had a response from my local PCT. They haven’t told me how much has been spent on homeopathy in each of the last five years. In fact, this is all they told me:

NHS Bradford and Airedale do not routinely commission homeopathy, however, exceptional cases can be reviewed as an Individual Funding Request.

I’ve gone back to ask if the other information I requested is available.

Edit, 24th August

More correpondence between me and Bradford and Airedale PCT:

Thank you for your initial response.

I would still like to see the figures that show how much has been spent on homeopathy by Bradford and Airedale PCT in each of the last five years. Please can you provide this information if it is available?

I have checked with my colleagues and they have informed me that we do not keep specific details of this information.

Do Bradford and Airedale PCT have any information on spending on homeopathy in recent years?

[PCT responses italicised.]

Edit, 26 August

Response:

“I am afraid we do not keep such a record and to my knowledge have not been asked to do so by the SHA. I have also checked the ledger system for suppliers/providers including ‘HOMEOPATHY’ in their name and can find no record of any transactions in recent years.”

Edit, 31st August

The Department of Health has now responded to my initial letter to my MP.

…the Committee’s report was published on 22 February. The new government considered its findings and recommendations and has published a full response.

The Department of Health will not be withdrawing funds for homeopathy magic beans nor will the licensing of homeopathic products magic beans be stopped. Decisions on the provision and funding of homeopathy magic beans will remain the responsibility of the NHS locally.

[…]

In deciding whether homeopathy is magic beans are appropriate for a patient, the treating clinician would be expected to take into account safety, clinical and cost-effectiveness as well as the availability of suitably qualified and regulated practitioners. The Department of Health would not intervene in such decisions.

[Helpfully, the DH then explain how I can find the government response that my initial letter was sent in response to. No, wait – I mean unhelpfully.]

I wrote to my MP because I’d read the government’s response to the evidence check report. I even quoted it in my initial correspondence. It’s taken the government (via my MP) a month to provide a written response that does not address a single point raised in my letter. All they’ve done is restate their case and point me to a document I have already read. This has been a complete waste of my time and energy.

ETA: rather than waste more of my time composing a proper reply to the non-response I have received from the DH, I’ve copied and pasted my original comments and added this:

I have read the government’s response to the evidence check and am unhappy with it. Please respond to the points I raise above.

I think I will now heed Cybertiger’s advice and take a break.

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32 Comments

  1. xtaldave said,

    Heh – given the coverage of science as a potential vote winner (not that it was much of one as it happeed) before the election, the U-turn on this is mind-numbingly dense.

  2. Cybertiger said,

    Good grief, jdc235, why don’t you take a break and go on holiday … like that twat, Dr Aust?

  3. Sinead said,

    Good on you for writing to your MP. Maybe someday… in the distance future… policy decisions will be based on science…

  4. teek said,

    Outstanding – your letter that is, not govt’s response. Am currently otherwise occupied – have taken cybertiger’s advice & am chilling out on a Malaysian beach – but upon my return will write to my MP too…!

  5. Oliver Dowding said,

    I’ve written to my MP too, and the Dept of Health. Long may it remain for one to select a solution to health problems that DOES work when the patient is properly assessed and the correct remedy selected.

    Just as we proved thousands of times with our dumb animals. They did not lie or deceive. They had no agenda. The remedies cost way less than drugs. They had no discernible side effects.

    But as Cybertiger suggests, maybe its time to take a break!

  6. jdc325 said,

    Long may it remain for one to select a solution to health problems that DOES work when the patient is properly assessed and the correct remedy selected.

    The only problem with that comment is that it refers to a ‘treatment’ that does not work. As for your remarks about ‘proving’ homeopathy works by treating animals – we’ve already gone over that at some length.

    Thank you for your suggestion that I take a break, but I am far from tired and am quite happy to continue to write about nonsense.

  7. jdc325 said,

    Good news from NHS Oxfordshire: County rules out NHS funding for homeopathy. Worth reading the comments from advocates of homeopathy: “This decision limits the possibilities, perhaps, for people who may not be able to have private treatment from a homeopath, and it means that less people will have access to homeopathy” says Susan Irvine (it’s true, but she says it like it’s a bad thing).

    Then there’s some comment from Steven Cartwright:

    However, Dr Steven Cartwright, who practices homeopathy in Oxford and runs Oxford Homeopathy, an educational forum, said it was short-sighted to say there was inconclusive evidence to support homeopathy.

    He added: “There is as yet no explanation as to how homeopathy works, but that will be forthcoming.

    “I’m quite confident the evidence is beginning to accumulate, and a few years down the line we will have an explanation as to how it works.”

    Rather than addressing the fact that the available evidence does not support homeopathy, Cartwright talks instead about an explanation as to how it works. The ‘mechanism of action’ of homeopathy does not need to be discovered – for the simple reason that it has no action. It’s an inert treatment.

    See Skepticat for more on Steven Cartwright.

  8. Cybertiger said,

    jdc235 twittered,

    “Thank you for your suggestion that I take a break, but I am far from tired and am quite happy to continue to write about nonsense.”

    Twit! Without a holiday, jdc523, there’s a danger that you’ll end up writing nonsense, which of course is what you’re doing, like a dung-spreader on crack. Go take a break!

  9. Cybertiger said,

    Twittering away from the top of the dung heap, jdc352 tweeted,

    “Rather than addressing the fact that the available evidence does not support homeopathy, Cartwright talks instead about an explanation as to how it works. The ‘mechanism of action’ of homeopathy does not need to be discovered – for the simple reason that it has no action. It’s an inert treatment.”

    What of the flight of the bumble bee?

    Some years ago, an aerodynamic study of bumble bees ‘proved’ beyond scientific doubt that the bumble bee cannot fly. Personal observation is, of course, to the contrary. It would have been more accurate to say that the aerodynamic theory of the time was unable to explain how the humble bumble bee actually flew. Time moved on and more refined scientific theory took account of the fact that for structures as small as a bee, air has a significant viscosity and science was able to explain the flight of the bumble bee.

    When science improves, explanations become apparent.

    With homeopathy, we simply await better science and better scientists than Dr Aust, jdc523, or Dr Anthony or any other followers of the cult of bad-science and Ben Goldacre.

  10. jdc325 said,

    @Cybertiger The best available evidence suggests that homeopathy performs no better than placebo – exactly what one would expect from an utterly implausible remedy. Observation of homeopathy, in controlled trials, suggests it is an inert treatment. Advocates of homeopathy such as Steven Cartwright who speak of an explanation of how homeopathy works are merely distracting from the fact that the available evidence suggests that it doesn’t even work. They are trying to explain how something that doesn’t work in practice might work in theory.

    As for your ‘science proved bumblebees couldn’t fly’ – you might be interested in this link: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sciurban.htm

  11. Oliver Dowding said,

    I note and read your bumblebee link with interest.

    The way you say that homoeopathy “doesn’t even work……… in practice” is mind-boggling. Why don’t you put your incredible intellect to work in trying to establish why so many animals, and people, including many children who cannot possibly deceive or lie or cheat whatever system of medical support you care to think of, get better from a medication that you say is sugar pills, or sugary water?

    If you establish that you can sell sugary water as a solution to illness, surely you’ll be doing humankind a massive favour? It might even be that there would be a Nobel prize in it for you! You’d be certainly saving the NHS, a small fortune in drugs that they wouldn’t need to prescribe, and you’d be saving people who suffer side-effects and reactions from drugs a massive amount of ill fortune or even death.

    As I have said before, on current levels of understanding, we know that what the Large Hadron Collider is trying to prove is something that with current levels of thinking we know to be impossible. That doesn’t seem to be stopping government and many conventional scientists spending billions of euros to try and find out whether there is something beyond our current level of understanding. If we spent even a small fraction trying to work out what is happening in the field of energy and medicine and our bodies impact from such, which seems to me as a by-standing non-academic to be the likeliest explanation for the mode of action by which homoeopathy works, we could all gain enormously.

  12. jdc325 said,

    Why don’t you put your incredible intellect to work in trying to establish why so many animals, and people, including many children who cannot possibly deceive or lie or cheat whatever system of medical support you care to think of, get better from a medication that you say is sugar pills, or sugary water?

    The simple answer is that they don’t get better because they’ve been given magic water or sugar pills. From the other thread: “Here’s a partial list of possible reasons: spontaneous improvement, fluctuation of symptoms, regression to the mean, additional treatment.” We also discussed published papers on homeopathy in animals, children, and adult humans on the other thread – papers which you dismiss as they conflict with your personal experience.

  13. Oliver Dowding said,

    For all your sweeping dismissive remarks, you carefully avoided responding to the key points. As on many occasions before.

    Why don’t you study the potential for restoration of people and animal health using sugar pills? if, as you claim, they are not getting better because of the homoeopathic remedy, but because they’ve gone into spontaneous remission, why not study the mechanism by which this happens? Set some clever scientists, of whom you must know plenty, to study the mechanisms by which such treatments work. Then you could apply it on a wide scale, and claim your Nobel prize, surely?

    I’m well aware of what was discussed on other threads. I don’t dismiss the papers you refer to, any more than you dismiss the ones that I might refer to. I’m well aware that there is science on both sides, which may not stand in-depth scrutiny. I’m also well aware that those that cling to the view that homoeopathy is simply sugar and water, and contains nothing that you would regard as active, therefore refuse to believe that any effect gained from a homoeopathic remedy is purely coincidental or similar. That’s where we differ. We also differ in the level to which we are prepared to accept that there is an energy field and affect greater than that which we can intellectually or scientifically analyse or accept, but which is having an impact for which we cannot find a currently acceptable rational understanding, limited by our determination to only accept results from RCTs. I remain perfectly convinced that over time, as with many other occasions when scientific understanding has taken time to catch up with how things actually were happening, so it will be with many of these things, including homoeopathy.

    Meanwhile, I’m sorry that our animals are continuing to deceive us and reverting back to the healthy mean, with only a little sugary water and no requirement that any drugs.

  14. RobH said,

    Oliver @11:

    we know that what the Large Hadron Collider is trying to prove is something that with current levels of thinking we know to be impossible.

    Citation needed.
    The LHC has been built on a foundation of extremely successful theory which so far has excellent explanatory and predictive power. It has been built to further test this theory in even more severe conditions. That’s what science does; develop explanatory theory then test its predictions. It’s something homeopathy has failed to do in 200 years.

  15. phayes said,

    Heh! I dread to think what must be going on in the laboratories and manufacturing plants of Boiron if a vindication and explanation of homeopathy are to be found in the >TeV scale structure of matter and spacetime. I do love the crackpot irony of dissing the RCT ‘evidence’ but then appealing to fundamental and frontier science though ;-).

  16. Cybertiger said,

    The comments of the last two commentators – and jdc523 – are pudding proof that the idiot-threesome are pigs – arrogant ones – that can fly high through the outer reaches of the blogosphere with the combined imagination of a bumblebee.

  17. Oliver Dowding said,

    Just a thought, as you seem to like debating homoeopathy so much…..how’s about you go to this conference. Am sure you would find John Benneth up for a good debate.

    http://homeopathyworldcommunity.ning.com/events/homeopathic-scientific-seminar?rsvpConfirm=1

  18. dt said,

    @Oliver,
    “HOMEOPATHIC SCIENTIFIC SEMINAR”

    Isn’t that a colossal oxymoron?

  19. dt said,

    John Benneth?
    The creator of these 2 videos?

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/03/why_oh_why_cant_i_have_something_like_th.php

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/04/why_oh_why_cant_i_have_something_like_th_1.php

    It would be quite an experience to try and “debate” with him, I’m certain. But I don’t think religious evangelists do “debate” very well.

  20. Cybertiger said,

    “dt”

    Isn’t that a colossal moron?

  21. Marsh said,

    @Oliver

    Just checking – can wheatgrass juice and broccoli sprout juice fight cancer? Your website sold those products with those claims, but you seem to have ceased making such claims now… Curious…

    Marsh

  22. Oliver Dowding said,

    Marsh, thank you for checking – I wonder why? Except, of course, I don’t. How disingenuous of you to make such comment – you know precisely why!

    Now, how about your spending some time reading this new book……

    Constitutional lawyer Jonathan Emord has written a new book entitled Global Censorship of Health Information – The Politics of Controlling Therapeutic Information to Protect State-Sponsored Drug Monopolies that should be required reading for anyone wanting to get the big picture on just how convoluted our health care regulatory system really is.

    You will find him here http://www.emord.com/ where there are links to the books. You will also find you can look up the author Jonathan W. Emord, or even email him direct…..so much better than having dialogue here, surely?

  23. Marsh said,

    @Oliver

    Sorry, with the sideways deflection towards engaging in dialogue with someone else, I may be missing your point – are you saying broccoli and wheatgrass can indeed cure cancer, then?

    Marsh

  24. Oliver Dowding said,

    @Marsh

    No. I never have. I know of nothing that will offer a 100% cure for anything.
    If you do, please let me know.

    Hope you enjoy the book and website to which I signposted.

  25. wakeupplease said,

    @Marsh
    can wheatgrass juice and broccoli sprout juice fight cancer? Surely you should be aware that in helping an individual to “fight” the effects of cancer they need to maintain an optimum level of nutrition. Quite sensible to take foods with are hightly nutritious, Does it mention anything about curing? No…..

  26. Oliver Dowding said,

  27. jdc325 said,

    @Oliver Dowding

    Not sure I see the relevance – are you trying to deflect criticism of homeopathy by pointing out that Big Pharma have been accused of naughtiness?

  28. Oliver Dowding said,

    @JDC325

    No deflection intended.

    Quaint isn’t it when you think the Telegraph article just pointed out some “naughtiness”, as if schoolboys being caught with stolen sweets.

    And here we learn more of the convoluted web of some in the “industry”……

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2010/08/whats-behind-ben-goldacre-.html

    But heaven forbid you might think I am using this to deflect yours and your mates criticism of/disagreement with homoeopathy. It stands on its own two feet perfectly well, thank you. Despite cynics and sceptics trying to knock it off its perch.

  29. jdc325 said,

    In the comments section under a post about homeopathy and the NHS, you choose to link to (a) a report that claims new drugs “offer only slight advances on existing treatments” (hardly shocking news) and (b) a bizarre article written by John Stone that relies on the reader thinking that there is something suspicious about Ben Goldacre being the son of a man who is professor of public health. I’m not sure why you are posting utterly irrelevant links, but feel free to continue if you wish to do so.

    See here for more about John Stone’s tendency to make homeopathically weak arguments based on familial relationships: Rabid Responses.

  30. phayes said,

    Heh!

    And here we learn how to do _homœopathic_ mud-slinging…

    Beyond parody.

  31. Nottinghamshire NHS and Homeopathy Part 2 « The Thought Stash said,

    […] and Airedale: @jdc325 persistently tries to get a proper response from Bradford and Airedale PCT “NHS Bradford and Airedale do not routinely commission homeopathy, however, exceptional cases […]

  32. The Year In Nonsense. And Stuff. « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] July, I wrote about the nonsense that is homeopathic St John’s wort and also looked at homeopathy and the NHS, writing both to my MP and to my local PCT. In the same month, I wrote An Anti-Vaccine History, […]

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