By Ian M Scott
A piece in today’s Glasgow Evening Times made public a “plea over the future of Glasgow homeopathic unit”. Why might there be concerns over the future of Scotland’s only homeopathic hospital? Primarily, because the public is now more aware than ever before of the exceeding shaky foundations upon which homeopathy is based.
It was at that point they mentioned “One of the world’s top alternative health experts…” I knew that the article I was about to read would not be one I would enjoy; an alternative health expert gets about as much respect from me as an expert Nutritionist (or Toothiologist, for that matter).
Earlier this week, coming weeks afrer members of the 1023 campaign took part in a mass homeopathic “overdose”, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a damning report into homeopathy, concluding not only that
“the funding of homeopathic hospitals… should not continue”
but also that
“there has been enough testing of homeopathy and plenty of evidence showing that it is not efficacious”.
In other words, homeopathy does not work and spending more money on research into it would be throwing “good money after bad”. In a TV interview, Phil Willis MP, Chairman of the Committee behind the report, said:
“Here we have a sum of money which is being spent by the NHS for which there is no evidence base at all. So this is a fundamental point of principle as to whether in fact we are actually hoodwinking individual patients… they are being given a treatment which the NHS knows does not work.”
However, Dr de Vries (“who has treated royalty and celebrities”, and so therefore must be fantastic!) said that many patients had experienced positive results at GHH. He added,
“It is taking away the freedom of choice on the public. It is a question of economics and the powers that be who wants us off the market.”
What Dr de Vries ignores is that it is perfectly possible, likely, and almost inevitable, that a patient will experience “positive results” from a placebo treatment if they have a self limiting condition. He claims that removing homeopathy is removing freedom of choice it is not: is protecting the public. People are still perfectly capable of getting access to homeopathy, but – just like magnetic bangles and voodoo – it should not be paid for by the taxpayer. Furthermore, the majority of the public are not aware of the dodgy pseudoscience behind homeopathy, nor of the masses of evidence showing it not to work. In a recent radio discussion, a homeopath actually boasted that 44% of studies were positive. This leaves approximately… 56% of studies to be negative? Or has “per cent” taken on a different meaning unannounced?
What is particularly amusing is his reference to “economics and the powers that be”. Not only does he allude to some “Big Pharma” conspiracy, but he seems to be dismissing the issue of economics, as if it were something inconvenient to be acknowledged and dismissed. Whilst the £4 million spent on homeopathy by the NHS is admittedly small, it is the principle that counts. The public trust the NHS to spend money on effective treatments, and as we all know from the countless Daily Mail headlines over the years, there are many patients being denied life-extending drugs, because they cost slightly too much. Well, lo and behold, here we have 400 million pennies that could be put to better use elsewhere.
Getting to the crux of the matter, health-care is a devolved concern, andso the decision over continuing to fund Glasgow Homeopathic hospital rests with the Scottish Government, who have already announced that it will continue to be funded. This means that £1 million of taxpayers money being spent on nothing but exceedingly expensive sugar pills. Homeopathy does not work yet despite this, £4 million is being spent each year on this pseudoscience. A House of Commons Committee has concluded that funding for homeopathy should be withdrawn. The Scottish Government has said that funding will continue.
And so, if you feel that government spending on pseudoscience with not a jot of reliable evidence should end, might I suggest printing off the following letter, finding yourself an envelope and a stamp – perhaps one commemorating the 350th Anniversary of the Royal Society? – and letting your MSP know your thoughts on the continued funding of this ridiculous 18th-century pseudoscience.
The contact details for MSP’s can be found on the Scottish Parliament Website and an e-petition on the Scottish Parliament website will follow.
Dear <Insert MSP’s name>,
I am writing to you on the tricky question of funding for homoeopathy through the NHS in Scotland, with particular regard to the facility at Gartnavel. Now, I am not a zealot about this by any means – I am quite happy for people to access alternative medicine if it makes them feel better, as long as no false claims are made for it – but I am also conscious that validating a therapy demonstrated to be ineffective poses hazards, particularly with regard to patients opting for homoeopathy where an alternative rational treatment exists, or ceasing use of a rational therapy in favour of homoeopathy. Examples where this has occurred with fatal consequences can readily be found (and I can provide examples of such events). Even more likely and worrying, is evidence that homoeopaths regularly recommend that their clients refuse vaccination (I can also provide a reference for this if you wish).
I do not pretend that modern medicine is perfect. Any system delivered by human beings will have errors and flaws. Moreover, the current commercial systems of drug development do not cater well for world health, since they focuses on diseases of wealthy nations, and the profit motive does not make for good science. But just as many human errors will arise in alternative practice, and the profit motive is no less influential in homoeopathy.
There are also serious ethical issues around prescription of placebos. Modern medical practice is opposed to such practices, since it is at odds with informed patient consent, and patient autonomy as opposed to paternalism.
Let me reiterate: I am not opposed to people accessing homoeopathy, as long as it does not make false claims for efficacy. I would prefer they paid for it themselves, rather than the community paying for these beliefs. But I am concerned about the impact on public health of official validation of irrational practices, particularly with regard to vaccination programmes. I hope you will be able to speak against the continued funding of the Gartnavel facility.
You can review the select committees report here:
Yours with best wishes,
<insert your name>
(Letter courtesy of Allo V Psycho on the badscience forums)
Examples of the potential harm caused by homeopathy can be found on the website: Whats the Harm?