Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Pat-Trip Dispenser

I'm not sure whether this is one of those issues that flares up for a short period of time, gets everyone talking, and then burns itself out, or whether the Science and Technology Select Committee's report this week on homeopathy is actually the start of something. The Select Committee has called for the Government to stop NHS funding for homeopathic treatment, as there is no scientific proof of its effectiveness. This is of particular local significance, as Bristol Homeopathic Hospital receives £260,000 in annual funding from the NHS.

This follows fast in the footsteps of a recent stunt by the anti-homeopathy campaign, 10:23, which is trying to persuade Boots to stop 'lending legitimacy to nonsense' by stocking homeopathic medicines. (See for more).

The Select Committee report in itself doesn't mean that anything much is going to happen. The Government will now be working on its response, which will include an indication of whether or not the Government is inclined to act upon any or all of the recommendations. Some, though not all, Select Committee reports are then debated in Parliament, usually in Westminster Hall on a Thursday afternoon. There's not time in the parliamentary calendar to do them all, so it's the Committee members who decide which ones are debated. And even then, there's no binding obligation on the Government to act, apart from continued pressure from the Committee and other interested parties.

However.... there is of course the small matter of a General Election looming upon the horizon so I'm not sure whether we will get to see the Government's response to the S+T Committee's report before Parliament is dissolved. I've told the constituent who came to see me today on a lobby of parliament that I will try to find out. I suspect it will be lost in the deluge, and it will be autumn, once the new Select Committees are established and Parliament gets back to normal, before it's revisited. I assume that if the Government hasn't responded before the election, the new Government (by which I mean the newly-constituted Government, not necessarily a Government of a different political hue) will not be under any obligation to do so, so it might be back to square one for the Committee.

The constituent who came to see me today swears by homeopathy, and is also a supporter of anthroposophical medicine; apparently the Helios clinic in Bristol, which is also a conventional GPs surgery, is one of only half a dozen or so in the country. He presents this as a matter of personal choice: if it works for him, who are we to deny him the right to such treatment?

Would be interested to know what people think... In particular, if some people swear by the benefits of homeopathy - people who are paying their taxes the same as everyone else - do we have the right to deny them the NHS service of their choice? Do we tell them that they're wrong, and science is right, even if they swear the opposite to be true? In some ways the argument that the NHS should be responsive to what patients want, not what clinicians/ bureaucrats decide, is an attractive one. If someone with terminal cancer loathes the idea of chemotherapy, and wants to try mistletoe instead (see the wiki link for anthroposophy), then who are we to dictate their choices?

But then I recall the cases I've fought on behalf of constituents with breast cancer, kidney cancer, and macular degeneration, who've been told by NICE that their drugs do not meet the cost-benefit-analysis test and will no longer be provided on the NHS. And the constituents who were denied fertility treatment because the odds were too low and the course of treatment too expensive. And all the other pressures on the NHS. It can't just be whatever people want, but what is the best use of public money. And then the question is, of course, who decides that? The scientists? Or the public?


Simon said...

Me I find that wrapping £50 notes around my throat cures my colds... can this be available on the NHS too?

Bristol Traffic said...

Think it's possible that removing homeopathy bit of Hampton house may free up some of the pavement for visitors to the uni health or BRI Physio departments to park on.

cowbutt said...

Similar to Simon, I find that beer and curry helps cure my colds. I look forward to this treatment being provided by the NHS too.

Seriously, let science and NICE be the arbiters of which are the most effective ways to spend the NHS' necessarily limited (regardless of the government - down to sheer size of the UK economy!) budget. By all means, let proponents of homeopathy propose new experimental studies and let NICE investigate, but until there's evidence that supports their claims of efficacy, public money should not be spent on such treatments.

Steven_L said...

Those Thai massages where they walk on your back are the only thing that help my back/neck/shoulder pain.

I have to pay for them myself. Homeopathy is bollocks, it's just water. The government should just mislabel some water as homeopathic remedies if they want to use them as placebos.

James said...

We hear stories from centuries past of people spending their life fortunes on medical cures which proved ineffective.

In my opinion, one of the reasons the NHS works well as a publicly run body is because it can offer proven and safe treatments, without allowing commercial competition to influence which treatments are seen as "proven". (Through NICE).

We can pause here for a moment to pity the Americans...

It seems, therefore, a dangerous thing to allow some treatments to be "proven" with a much lower level of proof than others.

I'm happy for people to seek out alternative remedies commercially, but not on my tax £.

Alan V.Schmukler said...

Very many studies proving homeopathy's effectiveness were submitted to the S&C committe. In addition, the five homeopahic hospitals have been curing people of real diseases for over a hundred years. That includes some of the worst epidemics in history. It's all documented.
In France,five medical schools give post graduate degrees in homeopathy.
In India homeopathy is practiced in hundred of hospitals by 70,000 board certified medical doctors.
The fact is that homeopathy does work and it is very scientific.
Compare this to research on conventional drugs, which is carried out by the Pharmaceutical companies who repeatedly lie about the safety or effectieness of drgs which are often recalled after killing thousands (eb. Vioxx 60,000 deaths). There is nothing scientific about drug research.
One ONE witness who appeared before the S&C committee was a practicing homepath. The committe members included representative of the drug industry and individuals with NO knowledge of homeopathy.
The whole thing was a sham to remove homeopathy as competition from the drug industry. The committee never read the evidence submitted in favor of homeopathy. You can take that to the bank.

Dr Technical said...

There is not a jot of evidence that homeopathy works. Anyone who thinks it does and wants to prove it, can win a million dollar prize from the James Randi foundation.

The rationale behind it is utterly ludicrous. Take something that you think causes an illness, dilute it so that there is not a single molecule left of it in the water you are diluting it with, invent some concept (with again no proof) that the remaining water has memory, put it into a pill, dry out the pill so it has no water in it,and then foist it on vulnerable ill people.

Homeopathic medicine is 100% snake oil, and anyone who recommends it is either stupid or ignorant.

An excellent article by Martin Robbins on the decision by the select committee is here. As the article says, homeopathy is useless and unethical.

Dr Technical said...

By the way, for a clinical dissection of the BHA's laughable response to the Science and Technology Committee's report, click here

Didymus said...

I would echo the most rational and sensible comment from one of your contributors, cowbutt.

We have of necessity a limited health budget, paid for out of the public purse, and dispensed to one and all by the NHS.Public money should not be spent on evidence free, irrational, biologically implausible healing modalities.

I was sufficiently intrigued, upon reading the pro-homeopathy comments from your respondent Mr. Schmukler, to look up the name on Google, since I found his comments,(insinuating in essence that the HoC Select Committees' considered, rational and balanced report was somehow a conspiracy to eradicate the practice of homeopathy) risible. Would this be the same Alan V Schmuckler, self described homeopath and educator, and author of a book on homeopathy?

If it is the same individual, it is telling that they elect to cherry pick pertinent facts by not declaring their involvement in the homeopathic movement and therefore obvious bias and possible conflict of interest - much like homeopaths do when presenting evidence of efficacy to select committees!

Sandra said...

If a cancer patient chooses to use homeopathy to treat their cancer, yes that's their right. But what if they made their choice based on what they were told by a homeopath? What if the homeopath provided that information based on their faulty understanding of a study that was poorly executed? (I have very clear examples of a case where homeopaths are claiming homeopathy to be effective against breast cancer)

I see this every day. Homeopaths claim that it can cure everything from ingrown toenails to AIDS but always without a shred of evidence. They quote studies that clearly demonstrate that they do not understand the scientific method, often these studies even disprove their point. When it's pointed out to them, they then claim science doesn't apply to homeopathy and it can't be studied.

Yet they say it enough times and enough people will believe them, and they do.

I agree that many homeopaths (if not most) honestly believe they are helping people and would be appalled at the suggestion of a cancer (malaria, AIDS, TB) cure. The vocal, money-grubbing charlatans are making a mockery of what is likely for the most part a gentle, harmless way for people to feel better using the powers within their own body (and by powers within their own body, let's be clear that I mean the very interesting placebo effect)

This is the way of the charlatan, exploiting the ill and desperate for personal gain.

If homeopathy was so effective, why did the British Homeopathic Association feel it necessary to quote-mine and cherry pick the evidence it provided to the committee? Surely in 200 years there would be some sort of shining light? I would venture to say there are no data reflecting the number of people for whom homeopathy had no effect, but I'll raise my hand as one of them.

National Health Services of any sort shouldn't lend legitimacy to this sort of nonsense. While it would be nice to pay for every little ritual and remedy people believe, the decisions have to come from some place of authority. The only decision point we have is science. On that point, in every way, homeopathy fails the test.

Hywel said...

Ms McCarthy,

Are you fishing around to gauge public opinion on this, to see which side of the fence makes you more electable?

Please get off the fence, and tell us what YOU think. It is better to adopt a principled stand for what you think is right, than to bend to the whims of popular opinion. Or shall we think of you as we think of most other MPs these days?

Kerry said...

I'd have thought it would be regarded as a good thing for an MP to spark a debate and listen to what people have to say? Are we always to be expected to be totally dogmatic about everything?

For the record, I'm not personally convinced of the merits of homeopathy, but it's not an issue I've given a great deal of thought to until this report was published. Indeed, I've just discovered that I signed an EDM in 2006 in support of homeopathic hospitals. I suspect many of the other 205 MPs who signed that EDM aren't great supporters of homeopathy either, but took the view that it was harmless enough. The S+T committee's report has moved the debate on, from the simple issue of whether homeopathy has any medical benefit to whether it's something that should be publicly funded.

I'm inclined to think not, but given the number of people who use the homeopathy hospital in Bristol, I think it's only fair to ask their opinion. Surely they have as much right as the skeptics to try to convince me of their case?