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Daily View: Homeopathy and the NHS

Clare Spencer | 10:15 UK time, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Vial containing pills for homeopathic remediesThe House of Commons select committee on science and technology has been examining the claims of homeopathy and has concluded that the NHS should stop funding the treatment. Commentators react to the decision.

The Independent editorial says why the case matters:

"[I]t means funds are diverted from efficacious treatments to less efficacious ones, because people may risk their health by rejecting orthodox treatment in favour of homeopathic remedies for a serious illness, and because it undermines the principle that Government investment in health should be evidence-based."

Edzard Ernst trained as a professor in complementary medicine. However, in the Guardian he argues that using homeopathy as a placebo is unethical:

"This strategy would mean not telling the truth to patients and thus depriving them of fully informed consent. This paternalistic approach of years gone by is now considered unethical.
Also, placebo effects are unreliable and usually short-lived. Moreover, endorsing homeopathic placebos in this way would mean that people may use it for serious, treatable conditions. Furthermore, if we allow the homeopathic industry to sell placebos we should do the same for big pharmaceutical companies - and where would this take us?"

Philip Hensher in the Independent compares homeopathy to a mother kissing a grazed knee better:

"[N]o one has yet asked the Government for millions of pounds to set up 'Kiss It Better' hospitals, with kindly mothers well-paid and waiting for patients to present themselves with minor injuries for a hug and a kiss and a pat on the bottom. I don't say it wouldn't work. On the other hand, it is probably not something the Government would consider funding."

Andy Lewis from the blog Quackometer campaigns against homeopathy . He says the report has put homeopaths under more pressure than they perceived possible:

"It may not be that this government acts on this report - elections are looming - but that is not important. Within PCTs, the NHS will start rethinking and no doubt start unwinding provision for it. There will be a ratchet effect. Bit by bit, funding will stop, never to return. West Kent PCT has done so. The likes of Liverpool, Glasgow, Bristol and London will surely follow. The Medicines Regulator will be under strong pressure to review its stance as it is clearly complicit in misleading the public with how it allows homeopathic products to be labelled."

On BBC Breakfast Dr Sara Eames from the Faculty of Homeopathy says she is disappointed as she believes homeopathy can save the NHS money:

"We see patients who are on a lot of medication that's not particularly helping them and often we can help them reduce their medication and have a better quality of life. I think we actually save the NHS money and that's why we should be on the NHS."

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In the Voice of (not so) Young Homeopathy blog a homeopathy practitioner calls this exercise a sham and a set-up:

"What happens next is a media snow all week - the BBC will have some 'discussions' where quietly spoken well-meaning homeopaths will be pitted against fast talking media trained SAS [Sense about Science] representatives. Mostly they'll be young conventionally attractive young women - GPs are favourite - and they'll trot out the well worn mantras and with the help of the presenter will force the last word."

Ben Goldacre has been campaigning against what he sees as treatments that don't have scientific backing. In his blog Bad Science Dr Goldacre wonders what this tells us about the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency:

"It looks like pretty sensible stuff to me, homeopaths can't expect special treatment among all forms of medicine, if the evidence actively shows it doesn't work, then that's that. I have to say what really frightens me about all this is the MHRA: if regulation is so political that they can fall into holes over sugar pills, it tells a frightening story about their wider activities."

Links in full

GuardianEdzard Ernst | Guardian | No to homeopathy placebo
IndependentPhilip Hensher | Independent | Homeopathy is a waste of NHS money
IndependentIndependent | No place for placebos on the NHS
quackometerAndy Lewis | Quackometer | The Bleakest Day for Homeopathy
Bad ScienceBen Goldacre | Bad Science | Parliamentary Sci Tech Committee on Homeopathy
Voice of (not so) young homeopathyVoice of (not so) young homeopathy | The worst day for homeopathy in 200 years?
BBC NewsBBC Breakfast | MPs recommend NHS stop spending on homeopathy

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