State Sponsored Quackery

Homeopathy is under threat within the NHS. A good thing too. But homeopaths are mounting a campaign to help ensure our health service spends its money on voodoo. Some MPs are calling for a debate in parliament in support of homeopathy. You can find out if your MP is on the ‘deluded list’ here.

The Early Day Motion being signed by MPs says the following,

That this House welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals; notes that some six million people use complementary treatments each year; believes that complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome; expresses concern that NHS cuts are threatening the future of these hospitals; and calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets.

Currently, there are 197 signatures. My guess is that most MPs have little idea about just how idiotic homeopathy is. My feeling most of them would sign to improve ‘patient choice’ and a because of a general low level support of ‘complementary medicine’ that might please a few constituents.

Why not write to your MP? If they are on the list, then ask them to withdraw their support. If they are not on the list, then ask them for their support in stopping NHS funded quackery. An easy place to start is here.

Here is my letter.

Dear Mr Vaizey,

As a constituent of yours, I was disappointed to see that you have added your name to EDM 1240 on “NHS Homeopathic Hospitals”. I understand that the motion states that homeopathy can offer ‘clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems’. Whilst I am fully in favour of patient choice, I would draw your attention to why homeopathy has no place within the NHS.

Homeopathy could simply be dismissed out of hand on the basis of its utter implausibility. If you are unaware of the ‘science’ behind homeopathy it might surprise you to realise that homeopathic remedies are nothing but water/alcohol drops or sugar pills. There is no active ingredient in them. It is therefore not surprising to see that the best science so far shows homeopathy to be no better than a placebo.

Now, placebo benefits for minor ailments may be acceptable. But in order to achieve benefits, the practitioner must either lie to their patients or be deluded. Neither option gives ‘choice’ to the patient or is acceptable in a health service that is to offer patient-centric care and informed consent.

Homeopathic sugar pills may be safe, but the thinking that goes with it most definitely is not. Homeopathy undermines patient trust in real medicine and doctors by offering false alternatives. Homeopaths struggle to define boundaries in what they do as they do not accept scientific evidence as meaningful to them. This is witnessed in the forthcoming Society of Homeopaths symposium on homeopathy and AIDS to be held in London on the 1st of December. I am sure you are also aware of the BBC Newsnight investigation into the widespread practice of homeopaths giving dangerous advice to travellers about malaria prevention.

NHS support for homeopathy gives credibility to an irresponsible profession. I urge you to withdraw your name and to oppose the continuance of state sponsored quackery.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Lewis

I will let you know what I get back.

On this theme…

20 Comments on State Sponsored Quackery

  1. I am surprised that Dr Ian Gibson (Labour, Norwich North), a former senior biology lecturer at the University of East Anglia is on the list!

  2. Would you mind terribly if I more-or-less borrowed your letter wholesale for sending to my own MP? It’s well-phrased and understated, allowing for the possibility that the MP in question is simply ignorant of the facts as opposed to a complete pillock.

    On the other hand, what is an MP doing putting his signature to a motion he doesn’t understand?

  3. Thank you kindly: I’m doing that very thing right now. I’m also going to include a link that I think goes some way toward illustrating just how irresponsible some homeopathic practitioners can be:

    http://homeopathic.org/crart.htm

    If you find yourself with anthrax or smallpox due to a terrorist attack you can be pretty certain that sugar pills will do the job, although one author goes so far as to caution the reader: “And remember, allopathic care may be indicated as well.”

    I don’t see why, personally; not if they’ve taken the sugar pills AND the magic water.

  4. I don’t hold out much hope – on close examination of his web site, it would appear that he’s a tad susceptible to woo-mongers.

    Nonetheless, I shall post any response here. Fingers crossed, eh?

  5. Dear Mrs Main,

    NHS homeopathic hospitals

    I note you are a signatory to Early Day Motion 1240 (NHS Homeopathic Hospitals) which “welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals”, states that “complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients” and “calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets.”

    On the contrary: homeopathy has no place in the NHS, for the simple reason that no good evidence has been ever been presented that homeopathic remedies are effective against any illness. Consistently when homeopathic remedies are tested, the larger a trial is (which makes the effects of chance less significant) and the more closely a trial adheres to the rigorous randomised placebo-controlled method (which excludes the effects of accidental or deliberate bias) the less significant appears any effect of the homeopathic remedy, until it is indistinguishable from that of an inert placebo. This is exactly what would happen if homeopathic remedies were perfectly useless. It is also the exact opposite of what would happen if such remedies were effective, when larger and better designed studies would show a larger healing effect.

    This failure of homeopathic treatments to demonstrate their supposed curative powers in controlled conditions is crucial, and renders homeopathy completely unsuitable to receive public funds. So utter has homeopathy’s failure been in controlled tests that the homeopathic profession has renounced them. The Chief Executive of The Society of Homeopaths wrote in August 2005:

    “It has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers that the placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy.” (Guardian letters, 29 August 2005)

    One wonders what possible justification there can be for claiming homeopathy is clinically effective, while demanding that the tests required to determine the effectiveness of every medical treatment or procedure ought not to apply to homeopathy.

    While homeopathy avoids or fails the only truly reliable tests of medical treatments’ effectiveness it does not deserve to be funded by the nation’s taxpayers. The NHS should concentrate its limited resources on those treatments which are proven and effective.

    Yours sincerely …

  6. Got a reply from Peter Luff MP (Conservative, Mid Worcs.) over the weekend:

    Thank you for your recent email concerning EDM 1240 on NHS Homeopathic Hospitals, for which I have indicated support. I read the points you raised with interest.

    Unfortunately this seems to be an area where we will continue to disagree. Of course, I am fully aware of the lack of firm scientific evidence that all homeopathic medicine is beneficial, and accept that some of it may indeed be nothing more than effect placebos. However, I am convinced that homeopathy does offer some genuine relief. When one considers the number of pharmaceutical products on the market that have their origins in the natural world it shows that pharmacists also believe nature has a lot to teach us.

    Although there may be disagreement over the exact benefits of homeopathic care, it is nonetheless enormously valued by thousands of people and, in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is ‘patient-led’, I believe it ought to be available where it is wanted and where proves cost and clinically effective. It is for these reasons that I will continue to support EDM 1240.

    Thank you for writing to me about this matter. If there are any further points you would like to raise relating to this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me again.

    Although it’s quite encouraging to get a speedy reply, his response possibly angered me even more than his support for the EDM. Will have to take up his invitation to contact him again…

  7. Peter Luff’s response is typical of the sort of soft support that exists through society for homeopathy. This letter highlights two key delusions that give rise to this support:

    1) That homeopathy is ‘natural’. That ‘natural’ is good and other ‘natural’ medicines have been shown to be useful. Homeopathy is not natural, it is magical. It should be classified with reiki, voodoo and crystals, not herbalism and TCM.

    2) That choice is good and that a demand should be met. Well, all other parts of the NHS do not have to deliver on just pure demand. Looking at it from a ‘needs’ point of view, no one ‘needs’ homeopathy on the NHS. If people want to privately make this choice and be happy in their delusions then fine.

  8. I’ve received a response from my MP, who also happens to be Ed Vaizey. It actually reads like a form letter on the subject, starting off with “I very much understand and sympathise with your concerns about the future of NHS homeopathic hospitals” before going off on an attack on the government’s record with the NHS. He tells me that homeopathy is “enormously valued by thousands of people” and that if the NHS is to be “patient-led” then homeopathy should be “available where it is wanted and proves cost and clinically effective.” (Ahem!)

    Vaizey does go on to note that I disagree with him before returning to his main theme of holding the government to account for its “gross mishandling of the NHS”.

    While this was a quick response, I find it unsatisfactory, particularly for an MP who prides himself in his links with science. Ho hum.

    I look forward to seeing what Andy receives in response to his mail to Vaizey.

  9. That is enormously disappointing about Vaizey. I have not received anything yet. It just looks like opportunistic shite. He only puts on his web site that he interested in science due to the large science projects in his constituency, JET, RAL, Diamond Light Source etc. I bet he could not even spell synchrotron let alone know what one is.

  10. I sent a similar letter to Daniel Kawczynski (Con, Shrewsbury and Atcham) and got waffle back. I intend to reply, but this may have to wait a couple of weeks.

    Quote:
    Thank you for your email of 25th August 2007 about the availability of homeopathy on the NHS and Early Day Motion 1240.
    I am aware that there are differing views on the provision of homeopathic remedies, with some arguing that there is not enough evidence to support their availability via the NHS, while others argue that greater access to complementary therapies in the NHS might lead to widespread benefits.
    According to the Department of Health, about half of GPs are thought to refer patients to alternative therapists – indicating that many health professionals see Homeopathy is worthwhile for their patients needs. Indeed, Homeopathy has been available on the NHS since the 1940s and is found by many patients who use it to make a difference where other medicines do not work.
    Conservatives believe that the NHS should not rule out providing alternative therapies. All therapies should be considered equally, and decisions on whether or not to provide them on the NHS should be evidence-based, as is the case with all other conventional medicines and treatments.
    Homeopathy and alternative treatments are a valuable resource for doctors to be able to draw on when offering treatments and, where a doctor and a patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient, I believe doctors should be free to prescribe that medicine. The Government repeatedly tells us that the NHS is ‘patient-led’, meaning that alternative therapies ought to be available where they are wanted and prove cost – and clinically – effective.
    Thank you for taking the time to write to me about this issue.

  11. Thanks Richard for posting that. What an utterly confused and ignorant man Daniel Kawczynski is. I have a nasty feeling that explaing even the self evident contradictions within his own reply will be a difficult job.

  12. Here (eventually) is my response from Ed Vaizey, Shadow Minister for the Arts, MP for Wantage and Didcot

    Many thanks for your email about NHS Homeopathic Hospitals, I read your comments with interest.

    Despite your many well argued points, I have decide not to withdraw my name from EDM 1240. Although there is some doubt surrounding the effectiveness of these institutions, I am sure you are aware that these facilities are highly valued amongst patients. Where a doctor and a patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to a patient, I believe doctors should be free to prescribe that medicine.

    I will continue to monitor the arguments for and against homeopathic hospitals.

    So, Ed Vaizey supports the deliberate deception of NHS patients, the waste of NHS resources on quackery and witchcraft, and a free-for-all prescribing regime.

  13. Addendum – 27 Jun 04: Doctors.net.uk has just released the results of a survey of 2500 UK doctors in which 82% admitted to seeing a colleague make a mistake or give sub-optimal care. And of those incidents that could have lead to death and disability, only 15% were reported. This means that a staggering 85% of serious doctor blunders is never reported, and so the public blissfully continues to regard the orthodox medical profession as “health carers”.

  14. Discouraging reply from Anne Main (Con, St Albans). Apparent delay mainly due to my quaint choice of old style paper-and-ink letter. Retyped below, so any spelling mistakes or other faults are mine:
    —–
    Dear Mr Hinkley
    Thank you for your letter about NHS homeopathic hospitals.
    I’m afraid I disagree with you. Homeopathy and alternative treatments are a valuable resource for doctors to be able to draw upon when offering threatments. Where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic threatment may be of benefit to the patient, I believe doctors should be able to prescrive that medicine.

    It is worrying to me that Primary Care Trusts are seeking to cut funding which could threaten the future of homeopathic hospitals. The government’s management of NHS spending has produced a situation whereby th NHS budget has nearly doubled from £57 billion in 1998 to £92 billion this year, and yet this year up to 37,000 jobs will be lost, hospitals up and down the country are closing or cutting back services and the NHS as a whole has finished the 2006/07 financial year with a gross deficit of over £900 million. And yet, Patricia Hewitt proclaims last year to be the “best year ever” for the NHS. Weighed down by yet more targets from central Government, it is clear that Trusts are struggling to cope, which is having a direct impact on patient care and reducing staff morale in the NHS to an all time low.

    Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that Trusts have decided to take the axe to homeopathic care, as a short term solution to their financial difficulties. I am opposed to these short sighted cuts because, as you will well know, homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the government repeatedly tells us is “patient-led” it ought to be available where it is wanted and proves cost and clinically effective.

    It is clear that the government is giving no commitment to safeguard the future of homeopathic treatment on the NHS.

    Thank you again for your letter.

    With best wishes,
    Anne Main.
    —–
    Yes, I also think a treatment should be available where it is wanted and proves cost and clinically effective. That was rather my point. *sigh*

  15. And now the responses from my own MP. I don’t know whether to give up or press on…

    ***

    The initial letter was (ahem) ‘closely modelled upon’ and indeed ‘drew significant inspiration from’ the one from this site. In other words, it was practically identical and thus there is little point reproducing it here.

    My correspondence thus far with David Drew, MP:

    ***

    From: David Drew

    Thank you for your email. I am surprised at how hard you are on homeopathic medicine. This has a part to play, albeit not a central one to our heath provision. By chance, I have seen how the St Lukes Medical Centre has flourished in Stroud, and it now has a good link to mainstream GP practices, as well as to the secondary sector including homeopathic hospitals. I never rule-out what I may not use, but know thousands of constituents appreciate rather than denying the effectiveness recent research has pointed to their value albeit on a more marginal scale than for orthodox medicine.

    Yours sincerely,

    David Drew MP

    Constituency Address: 5a Lansdown, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 1BB, Telephone: 01453 764 355

    ***

    It’s possible I was a little harsh in my response…

    ***

    From: Me

    Dear Mr. Drew,

    Thank you for your reply, although I am frankly astonished by the
    content. I am not “hard on” homeopathic medicine by any stretch of
    the imagination. Everything in my e-mail was pure fact. There is no
    active ingredient in any homeopathic remedy: do not confuse homeopathy
    with herbalism, for instance. No effect above placebo has ever been
    demonstrated in a properly-controlled study of homeopathy. All the
    urban myths about homeopathy being efficaceous in the treatment of
    animals, for instance, are just that: myths.

    “Recent research” has not pointed to the effectiveness of homeopathy
    outside of uncontrolled studies and “observations” published in
    homeopathic journals.

    Please understand, this issue is not about “patient choice”. Funding
    remedies that have no demonstrable effect lends them a credibility in
    the public eye that is unacceptable in an evidence-based public
    healthcare system. The scientific evidence is unequivocal and any GP
    administering a medicine that had had trial results similar to those
    of homeopathic treatments would rightly be subjected to disciplinary
    action by the GMC. The efficacy of a remedy cannot be determined by
    public vote, and the “success” anecdotes of those treated by
    homeopathy, however heartfelt and well-intentioned, are as meaningless
    as the assertions of those who truly believe they have been kidnapped
    by aliens.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that thousands of constituents also believe
    that immigrants are ruining the country, that beating a child is the
    best form of discipline and that terror suspects should be
    incarcerated indefinitely without charge. Just look at the BBC’s Have
    Your Say site if you want evidence for that. Are you likewise going
    to sponsor motions to change public policy in support of these beliefs
    even though the evidence does not support the assertions? I think
    not.

    It is abhorrent to me that an elected Member of Parliament should
    seriously suggest that money should be spent on useless treatments,
    when money for expensive yet effective drugs is being withheld? Is
    your stance merely because it is a “safe” one to take? Do you feel
    that advocating homeopathy will win you support from many voters
    whilst those unfamiliar with the issues will not care? If your
    support is based on the supposition that homeopathy is effective,
    would you please be so kind as to direct me toward the evidence that
    supports your conclusion?

    I suggest, sir, that instead of blindly contributing your support to
    funding for homeopathy – a pseudoscience that was discredited
    thoroughly by the leading minds of its day – you perhaps consider
    investigating the matter further. I for one would never cast my vote
    for any candidate who indulged in such magical thinking, which is
    precisely the basis for homeopathy.

    http://www.badscience.net would be a good place for you to start; it
    is a science blog authored by Dr. Ben Goldacre and contains many
    point-by-point dissections of the so-called “research” and “studies”
    that homeopathists refer to in support of their fantastical claims.

    Yours sincerely,

    ***

    And finally…

    ***

    From: David Drew

    Dear Mr […]

    Thank you for your further email. I have made my own study of homeopathy. It has a limited but nevertheless important role to play for some people. I have referred a small number of people who have come to me as constituents in the field of mental health and this has helped them. My understanding is that homeopathy accounts for less than 0.01% of the NHS budget and given the interest in the Stroud area in particular the addition of the St. Lukes surgery has been very helpful. Though I remain sceptical of its role vis a vis mainstream treatment having had a number of friends who have been to St. Lukes for additional help to overcome their various cancers I have been impressed by the dedication of the staff there. That is how I make my mind upon such issues.

    Yours sincerely

    David Drew

    ***

    What do you think, folks? Do I just give up, or what? Certainly I won’t be voting for him!

  16. Oh dear: apologies for the poor formatting. I cut-and-pasted without giving thought to removing the line breaks, and neglected to preview 🙁 Hope it’s not too unreadable!

  17. Owing to absence, I’ve only just got around to replying to my MP. This is what I’ve written:

    Dear Mr Kawczynski,

    Thank you for your reply of 31 August to my letter to you about the Early Day Motion on homeopathy. I would like to comment on your reply.

    I wrote specifically about homeopathy. Other forms of ‘complementary medicine’ raise their own specific issues, but homeopathy is something that the NHS should certainly not support.

    Studies show that homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo (an inert pill or water disguised as a treatment). This is not surprising, as homeopathic remedies contain absolutely no active ingredient – they are placebos. It is certainly untrue that homeopathy can treat conditions that science-based medicine cannot.

    Most homeopaths treat only conditions that get better by themselves. In that sense they do no harm. But money spent on homeopathy is money that would be better spent on treating people with serious conditions using the best known treatments. And homeopaths become dangerous when (as some do) they make the false claim that they can treat or offer protection from serious diseases such as malaria or AIDS.

    Homeopaths like to try to imply that their remedies are ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ remedies, but they are not. They are inert tablets or solutions created with a ritual that is based on late 18th century magical thinking, long before science discovered bacteria and viruses and identified the organic and molecular bases of disease.

    Homeopaths also like to try to suggest that their ‘treatments’ are somehow outside the scope of testing. This ignores the fact that techniques such as randomised double-blind trials were invented precisely because there is no other reliable way of knowing whether a treatment is effective or not.

    If you would like to get an idea of the extent to which homeopaths are mocking reason and deluding the public, please have a look at the catalogue of Helios, a major supplier of homeopathic ‘remedies’. There you will find about 12 pages of supposed remedies supposedly based on just about everything including Excrementum caninum (dog excrement). This is reminiscent of the witches in Macbeth, except that there is no way you could in reality distinguish between any of the remedies on the list. The catalogue is at:
    https://www.helios.co.uk/download/Remedy_File.pdf.

    If you would like to see a more detailed criticism of the assertions in the Early Day Motion, I strongly recommend the full explanation with references at:
    http://apgaylard.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/homeopathic-motions/

    I hope that this explains my concern. I am sorry to see that so many of our elected representatives are so badly informed about the matter. There seems to be a serious lack of understanding of science and medicine in the House of Commons. This is dangerous when so much of our society and economy depends on science and technology.

    Yours sincerely,
    Richard Burnham

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