Disaster for British Homeopathic Association after Judicial Review fails over Provision of Homeopathy on NHS

Wikimedia Commons Old homeopathic remedy, Hepar sulph.

Like many parts of the NHS, Lothian Health Board had recently made the sensible decision to stop funding homeopathy. It made this decision after an extensive public consultation. However a 73 year old woman with arthritis called for judicial review of the decision. That review came down firmly on the side of the Health Board and homeopathic provision will not be reinstated. However, the impact of this decision goes well beyond the perceived needs of one individual.

As is reported in the judgement, the Board claims that the “real force behind the petition was a charity, not the petitioner [Honor Watt]. That charity was almost undoubtedly the British Homeopathic Association. As is noted in the judgement, “The British Homeopathic Association, a charity whose purpose is to promote patient access to homeopathy, has a campaign to save NHS Homeopathy.’ Their chairman appeared before the board to raise concerns before the decision was made to defund homeopathy.

The BHA is a charity that is closely allied with the Faculty of Homeopathy, the body that represents medical professionals who still insist homeopathy has a role in health care. In many ways, it is the trade union for this handful of eccentrics. These doctors stand to lose the most from the decision to defund NHS homeopathy. They are being squeezed out of public health care, and in many case, being forced to form their own private companies in order to carry on prescribing sugar pills for illnesses.

Whether or not the BHA was directly funding this legal campaign on behalf of the elderly woman, the impact of this decision on them will be devastating. Here is the section in the review, that in my opinion deliver s fatal blow to NHS provision of homeopathic services.

In any event, even if I had concluded that the Board had failed to comply with its PSED [public sector equality duty], I would have refused to reduce the decision under review.  It is plain that the Board, as it was entitled to do, accepted the view that there was no scientific evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy and that funding for it was a waste of the limited funds at its disposal.  In these circumstances the countervailing factor in this case was so powerful, indeed overwhelming, that no decision other than the one taken by the Board was conceivable.  A different decision, namely, to continue spending money on a service whose efficacy was not established, would have been unreasonable.

These are extraordinarily strong words. And damning for homeopathy. You might say that in other words, the case against wasting public money on homeopathy is so overwhelming that it did not really matter if the public review had been sloppy. That is a devastation result for the BHA and calls into question why any commissioning body in the UK should be funding homeopathy in any way whatsoever.

Another question arises. The BHA is a charity that is supposed to work in the public interest. If money was spent on this fruitless review and the BHA were clearly the driving force behind it using the elderly patient as a proxy, was the BHA acting in the wider public inetrest here? Or was it acting for its own narrow interests and the few doctors who continue to insist in using the magical form of 19th Century quackery?



1st September 2015

The BHA have issued a statement saying how upset they are about all this. In full,

Lothian ruling statement

Lord Uist’s ruling dismissing the call for a judicial review of NHS Lothian’s decision to cease provision of its homeopathy service is a major blow, not only for the sick 74-year-old woman who was courageous enough to take on the health board and bring the case, but for all who believe in patient choice.

The basis for the legal challenge was NHS Lothian’s apparent failure to take into account its public sector equality duty in reaching its decision; specifically, its highly inaccurate assertion that patients who used the homeopathy service tended to be more affluent members of the community and therefore could afford to pay for the treatment privately – an assertion that the health board failed to back up with any supporting evidence. While ignoring this argument Lord Uist appears to have made a judgement on the efficacy of homeopathy which throws into question Lord Uist’s focus and objectivity in making his final judgement.

Naturally the British Homeopathic Association is disappointed by this ruling, but it must be remembered that the real losers are those patients in Lothian whose health has benefited from NHS homeopathy and are now being deprived of the treatment because, like the patient Honor Watt who challenged NHS Lothian, they cannot afford to get the care privately that they once received through the NHS.

40 Comments on Disaster for British Homeopathic Association after Judicial Review fails over Provision of Homeopathy on NHS

    • Homeopaths are fine when they stay hidden but they have real problems when they emerge blinking into the light and find the world pointing and laughing at them. But, they so desperately want to be taken seriously, as if they were on a par with doctors, that they keep trying.

      • Some homeopaths are doctors. Fully licenced to practice by the General Medical Council.
        A recent motion at the BMA Conference (ARM Liverpool 2015) said: ‘Homeopathic medicine would be more appropriately regulated by The Magic Circle than by the General Medical Council.’

        As a member of TMC, I felt the role of the Circle in supporting magicians who study and use the magic arts for the purposes of entertainment was being held to ridicule, and I was offended. However, I responded with good grace and my customary sense of humour. Not so, some homeopaths. On August 6th 2015, The Chairman of Council commented in the BMA Blog:
        “Although not debated, the motion and report of it caused offence to some doctors who practise homeopathy, and I’d like to say sorry to those colleagues and fellow members who responded in this way. It echoed similar complaints five years ago when a doctor at a BMA conference compared it to witchcraft.”

        I can but assume Dr Mark Porter means “Sorry you are offended” and not “Sorry some members of the BMA offended you”. There is a subtle distinction.
        I am sorry homeopaths’ thinking seems awry, but pleased to be a member of a profession in which freedom of speech is encouraged.

      • I felt the same way when they called it witchcraft. As a practicing witch homeopathy isn’t even good magic!1

    • “next target”? Army chaplains are also “publicly funded”. Giving comfort to the dying and bereaved is not to be compared with quackery. Even an atheist like me can accept the value of such services. But I would not be happy if a religious faith HEALER was provided by the NHS. We must choose our “targets” carefully!

      • Agreed… The vast majority of military chaplains, hospital based or otherwise, I encountered in my 28 years of medical service in both the US Army & Navy were NOT proselytizers or any kind of faith healers. They were “People Persons”, comforters, counselors and just overall good listeners.

  1. Good, now quack homeopathy is out of the way we can now look at dangerous conventional quack medicines which have a piss poor evidence base. I’d start with medicines for type 2 diabetes (apart from metformin) we can kick most of those into the long grass, save the NHS billions and improve outcomes.

    Ready to join a proper campaign Andy.Have some real sense about science.

    Er… Thought not.

    • I am sorry the subject matter of my blog does not meet with you approval and that you would rather I spoke about something else.

      For the record, this blog is about pseudoscience and superstitious health beliefs. It is not the sole limit of my interests and I am a keen supporter of Sense Sbout Science and their alltrials campaign that seeks better evidence based through transparency and openness. I hope this meets with your approval.

      • Your reply speaks volumes.

        The tide is changing. One only needs to look at the drive for “patient-centred” care that the RCGP are promoting to see that “cookbook’ medicine is no longer the mantra that we need to follow.

        You might find that people having been practicing patient-centre care in the natural medicine sphere for quite a few years.

        Still, rock on Andy et al.

      • Patient centred care had nothing to do with homeopathy and homeopathy is not patient centred. Homeopathy is dogma centred. The only thing that matters to a homeopath is homeopathy. A homeopath that was patient centred would abandon homeopathy as unevidenced and nonsensical and therefore not in the best interests of patients.

      • It is worth pointing out that the judge in the review essentially said the same thing. That it would be absurd to fund homeopathy

      • I agree it is absurd to fund homeopathy but it is absurd to fund many conventional therapies. The difference being conventional medicines with no primary end point data (such as nearly all type 2 diabetes medicines) cause significant harm. So why pick on harmless homeopathy, unless the patient is lactose intolerant. For example, gliptins have no primary end point data but can increase respiratory infections by 12 fold.

        Puts your campaign into perspective!

      • Another dull ‘don’t talk about that, talk about this’ argument.

        Perhaps it is the British Homeopathic Association who ought to put their campaign into perspective – trying to push alternative medicine onto the NHS when indeed there are bigger issues to discuss.

      • If you pay attention, Robin, rather than stick with your prejudices, you will notice that Sense About Science has not done anything about homeopathy for years and has been focussing very heavily on its AllTrials campaign.

      • So if Sense About Science aren’t doing anything about homeopathy then why are you, Nightingale and Colquhoun so bothered?

      • It is a complete mystery to you, isn’t it?

        By the way, the answers to your questions lie within what we write. It’s no more mysterious than that.

  2. This is a great thing to happen.

    “The sun never sets on the British Empire”. The British ruled a big part of the world.

    Then the fate turned around.

    First it was the empire -country after country was lost. Next comes the economy- company after company is getting sold. Next will come people – death and disability will be the rule. Aggressive treatments will be helpful -every one has to die one day!!!

    You get what you deserve.

  3. Homeopathy is ok in small doses. The problem is, it’s small doses of a toxin. If the theory of homeopathy was sound, you could hold a plain glass of water between your hands and charge it with the power of thought and specific intent.

    It’s easy to laugh and declare it nonsense but if you want to debunk this with visual proof, my suggestion is to take Kirlian photographs of that glass of water before and after energizing.
    If both photos are similar, debunking is successful.

    But if the second photo is vastly different, new questions are raised.

    • Except as the board’s study of the patient population noted the vast majority were middle class and so perfectly capable of buying homeopathy or other Alt’Med’ services privately.

      The need for a placebo is not really the issue, it is whether the public purse should pay for your placebo of choice.

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