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 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
“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.