Saturday, 2 March 2013

Another small victory in the fight against quackery but the NHS is yet to dilute its shame to Homeopathic concentrations

As blogged recently by Rachel Nesbitt at the Society of Biology, NHS Choices website becomes ‘neutral’ on homeopathy, the NHS Choices website had recently diluted its stance on the inefficacy of homeopathic 'treatments' in response to lobbying.

Happily, in response to a deluge of disgruntled comments, the original text has now been replaced and the site now begins:
"Homeopathy is a 'treatment' based on the use of highly diluted substances, which practitioners claim can cause the body to heal itself.
A 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy said that homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos, and that the principles on which homeopathy is based are 'scientifically implausible'. This is also the view of the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies."
It's still not all good news, though. As the website explains further down the page:
"It is available on the NHS?
The Department of Health does not maintain a position on any particular complementary or alternative therapy, including homeopathy. It is the responsibility of local NHS organisations to make decisions on the commissioning and funding of any healthcare treatments for NHS patients, such as homeopathy, taking account of issues to do with safety, clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness and the availability of suitably qualified practitioners.
Homeopathy is not available on the NHS in all areas of the country, but there are several NHS homeopathic hospitals and some GP practices also offer homeopathic treatment."
I'm not sure if this is a deliberate typo - the link at the top of the page reads "is it available..." rather than "it is available..." but, tragically, yes, homeopathy is available on the NHS in some places. With Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary and pro-Homeopathy Conservative MP Tredinnick on the Commons science committee, I genuinely fear for any future hopes evidence-based science policies in general (badgers beware), and for the NHS in particular.

In case anyone is in anyone doubt as to the driving force behind promoting homeopathy, the final paragraph of the "is it available..." section reads:
"Homeopathy is usually practised privately and homeopathic remedies are available from pharmacies. The price for an initial consultation with a homeopath can vary from around £20 to £80. Homeopathic tablets or other products usually cost around £4 to £10."
That's right. £4 to £10 for some sugar pills. And if you think that homeopathy is harmless, the tell that to anyone duped into giving their child a homeopathic vaccine. (Their opposition to vaccines is particularly ironic, given that the only shred of science that comes even slightly close to homeopathy is that small amounts of a pathogen - an actual vaccine - can potentially give you protection. The mechanism is entirely different, though. (It's real, for one thing.))

If people want to take a placebo, that is their choice - and it might even still work if given explicitly as such - but hiding the fact that a 'treatment' is just a placebo is irresponsible. Promoting it in favour of actual treatments should be criminal. Thanks to the games played by big pharma, the battle for getting decent evidence-based medicine is hard enough. If we can't even stamp out something as obviously nonsense as homeopathy, what hope do we have?


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