MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

MORE than £150,000 was spent by NHS Grampian on homeopathic treatments last year. Referrals to homeopathic practitioners cost £37,000 and referrals to the Glasgow Homoeopathic Hospital cost £7,315 in 2014-15. In view of the fact that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos, any amount of tax payers’ money spent on homeopathy is hard to justify. Yet an NHS Grampian spokeswoman defended its use of by the health board with the following words:

“We have a responsibility to consider all treatments available to NHS patients to ensure they offer safe, effective and person-centred care. We also have a responsibility to use NHS resources carefully and balance our priorities across the population as well as individuals. We also recognise that patient reported outcome and experience measures are valued even when objective evidence of effectiveness is limited. Homeopathy can be considered in this arena and we remain connected with the wider debate on its role within the NHS while regularly reviewing our local support for such services within NHS Grampian.”

Mr Spence, a professional homeopath, was also invited to defend the expenditure on homeopathy: “When a friend started talking to me about homeopathy I thought he had lost his marbles. But it seemed homeopathy could fill a gap left by orthodox medicine. Homeopathy is about treating the whole person, not just the symptoms of disease, and it could save the NHS an absolute fortune. If someone is in a dangerous situation or they need surgery then they need to go to hospital. It’s often those with chronic, long-term problems where conventional treatment has not worked that can be helped by homeopathy.”

What do these arguments amount to, I ask myself.

The answer is NOTHING.

The key sentence in the spokeswomen’s comment is : “patient reported outcome and experience measures are valued even when objective evidence of effectiveness is limited.” This seems to admit that the evidence fails to support homeopathy. Therefore, so the argument, we have to abandon evidence and consider experience, opinion etc. This seemingly innocent little trick is nothing else than the introduction of double standards into health care decision making which could be used to justify the use of just about any bogus therapy in the NHS at the tax payers’ expense. It is obvious that such a move would be a decisive step in the wrong direction and to the detriment of progress in health care.

The comments by the homeopath are perhaps even more pitiful. They replace arguments with fallacies and evidence with speculation or falsehoods.

There is, of course, a bright side to this:

IF HOMEOPATHY IS DEFENDED IN SUCH A LAUGHABLE MANNER, ITS DAYS MUST BE COUNTED.

4 Responses to Homeopathy on the NHS: its days are counted!

  • But if health authorities, the government and even some registered medical practitioners are prepared to see evidence-based care set aside and for ‘patient experience’ to be accepted as a standard by the NHS it could mean (and I am afraid, will mean) that the days of EBM, SBM, any sort of critical thinking and insistence on evidence for NHS patients, are numbered.

    Where is the evidence that ‘evidence’ trumps foolishness, delusion, deceipt?

    Sigh.

  • I which are those chronic conditions homeopaths are always speaking about? Because they are usually so vague.
    Type II diabetes? Very bad disease, but conventional medicine can offer very much. Actually, the most significant problem is the non-compliance of many patients, the same with atherosclerosis. Arthritis? There are targeted therapies for the worst types, surgical techniques are constantly developing.
    Of course, there are many problem areas – mental disorders and most of the rare disorders. And I am anxious, because, if homeopaths are selling remedies to menopausal and postmenopausal women, claiming magic water/sugar will replace oestrogen, then e.g. parents of children with rare metabolic or degenerative disorders will be an easy pray.

  • I find this report concerning, not least because it refers to my own NHS region. The post quotes the Grampian spokesperson: “…patient reported outcome and experience measures are valued even when objective evidence of effectiveness is limited.” The article the post links to also has a piece from a Professor in Clinical Pharmacology who is unequivocally against NHS funding of homeopathy, but even he says “I have absolutely no doubt there will be people who have been subject to homeopathy who have felt better.”
     
    I too have no doubt that people can be made to feel better by all kinds of personal attention. It all comes down to psychology. We often read that hospital nurses are so busy nowadays that they don’t have the time to do the little things that mean so much to hospital patients: everything from plumping pillows to a reassuring chat. But others are paid specifically and solely to provide psychological support. The NHS spends £23.5 million each year on hospital chaplains, who are presumed to make appropriately susceptible patients feel better by offering ‘spiritual care’. The credible evidence for support and intervention from gods is as feeble as that for homeopathy, yet the NHS deems it worth paying for. The point is that patients undoubtedly deserve psychological support, well beyond the standard offerings of surgery and pharmacology, but who is to provide it? Surely not the wackaloons we see posting in support of sCAM on this blog!
     
    My personal problem is that I am unwilling to suffer obvious nonsense gladly. Homeopathy is at the top of the tree for no-brainer foolishness among quack remedies. There is a line from Mr Spence, the homeopathist, that leaves me astonished. (BTW, I really think we should routinely use the term ‘homeopathist’, analogous to ‘islamist’, for people who slavishly adhere to a belief that homeopathy represents a rational approach to medical therapy.) Spence says “his experience in intensive care showed him the limits of conventional medicine and he became curious about complementary therapy”. Intensive care?! One wonders what limitations he’s talking about. If he thinks homeopathy can treat the kinds of problems patients have when they’re admitted to intensive care then he doesn’t live on the planet of reality or anywhere near its orbit.
     
    I’m beginning to wonder if, maybe, we should expect the NHS to pay for more, not less, quack medicine. If hospital wards and GP surgeries become crammed with people candling patients’ ears, waving crystals around them, scraping their necks, tickling their feet with vibrators, jabbing them with needles, irrigating their colons and waving bones while chanting mantras, perhaps enough rational patients would build up opposition to the point that all the snakeoils could be dumped in a single piece of regulation. Does that make me an optimist or a pessimist?

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