Today’s Guardian has revealed the extraordinary story of how the Department of Health corrupted information on the NHS Choices web site to make it more pleasing to homeopaths and the Prince of Wales. The story was uncovered by a Freedom of Information request by Professor David Colquhoun.
The Department of Health took a cowardly approach where they tried to minimise the possibility of homeopaths and their supporters complaining to them. They chose expediency over allowing people to make good health care choices based on NHS information. This is a very clear example of ‘policy-based evidence’, where evidence is sought or ignored depending on whether or not it supports a political objective.
In the US, the equivalent pages are much better, making it quite clear that there is a lack of evidence for homeopathy and that the treatment is scientifically implausible. The NHS Choices page is not so straightforward about the evidence. And it even links to homeopathy organisations as if they are good sources of medical advice.
There is a remedy to this situation. The DoH feared having to do a lot of work if they told the truth. By being misleading, I suggest that they should have to do some work explaining to your MP why this is so. Expedient poltroons should be shown for what they are.
I have written to my MP as follows. I would suggest you do the same. It will take under five minutes if you use the excellent site http://www.writetothem.com. And feel free to use my text and amend delete or add as you see fit.
I read with alarm in today’s Guardian that NHS Choices had been prevented from setting out the evidence for a treatment as a result of the DoH being lobbied by special interest groups.
NHS Choices, on the whole, does a marvellous job of factually explaining treatments, and setting out in plain English what the evidence is for effectiveness and any associated risks. By doing so, people are helped to make informed healthcare choices which results in better lives for people and lower costs for the NHS.
In the case of the page that explains homeopathy, the DoH asked NHS Choices to remove references to the unscientific nature of the treatment and to the lack of good evidence for effectiveness. A Freedom of Information request revealed that this was as a direct result of lobbying by homeopaths and the Prince of Wales’ charity that promoted alternative medicines.
The Department of Health has repeatedly claimed that it “does not take a view on complementary and alternative therapies including homeopathy.” In this case, that is clearly not true and it has allowed politics and a fear of complaints from vested interests to override good scientific advice and a clear statement of the evidence. As I am sure you are aware, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has recently made clear that homeopathy is ‘rubbish’. People reading the NHS Choices site need to be aware of the evidence behind such statements so that good choices can be made.
Can I ask you to request of the appropriate Minister in the DoH to give full editorial responsibility to the NHS Choices team to allow them to present clear information about the nature, effectiveness and risks of treatments without the possibility of political, philosophical or commercial interference? And can NHS Choices expedite the re-writing of such pages that may have suffered from inappropriate pressures?
There is also a petition going around that you might want to sign.