MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The British Homeopathic Association (BHA) is a registered charity founded in 1902 which aims to promote and develop the study and practice of homeopathy and to advance education and research in the theory and practice of homeopathy. The British Homeopathic Association’s overall priority is to ensure that homeopathy is available to all…

One does not need a particularly keen sense of critical thinking to suspect that this aim is not in line with a charitable status. Homeopathy for all would not be an improvement of public health. On the contrary, the best evidence shows that this concept would lead to a deterioration of it. It would mean less money for effective treatments. Who could argue that this is a charitable aim?

Currently, the BHA seems to focus on preventing that the NHS England stops the reimbursement of homeopathic remedies. They even have initiated a petition to this effect. Here is the full text of this petition, entitled ‘Stop NHS England from removing herbal and homeopathic medicines’:

NHS England is consulting on recommendations to remove herbal and homeopathic medicines from GP prescribing. The medicines cost very little and have no suitable alternatives for many patients. Therefore we call on NHS England to continue to allow doctors to prescribe homeopathy and herbal medicine.

Many NHS patients either suffer such severe side-effects from pharmaceutical drugs they cannot take them, or have been given all other conventional medicines and interventions with no improvement to their health. These patients will continue to need treatment on the NHS and will end up costing the NHS more with conventional prescriptions. There will be no cost savings and patient health will suffer. It is clear stopping homeopathic & herbal prescriptions will not help but hurt the NHS.

I find the arguments and implications of this petition pathetic and misleading. Here is why:

  1. NHS England is not considering to remove homeopathy from GPs’ prescribing. To the best of my knowledge, the plan is for the NHS to stop paying for homeopathic remedies. If some patients then still want homeopathy, they can get it, but will have to pay for it themselves. That seems entirely fair and rational. Why should we, the tax payers, pay for ineffective treatments?
  2. Because homeopathic remedies are not effective for any condition, it seems misleading to call them ‘medicines’.
  3. That homeopathy costs very little is not true; and even if it were correct, it would be neither here or there. The initiative is not primarily about money, it is about the principle: either the NHS adheres to EBM and ethical standards, or not.
  4. Homeopathy is not a ‘suitable alternative’ for anything, and it is misleading to call it thus.
  5. Even if NHS England decides against the funding homeopathic remedies, GPs could still be allowed to prescribe them; the only change would be that the NHS would not pay for them.
  6. Patients who ‘will continue to need treatment on the NHS’ under the described circumstances will not be helped by ineffective treatments like homeopathy.
  7. It is simply wrong to claim with certainty that there will be no cost savings.
  8. If the NHS scraps ineffective treatments, patients will suffer not more but less because they might actually receive a treatment that does work.
  9. It is fairly obvious that stopping to pay for homeopathic remedies will bring progress, help the NHS, patients and the general public.

Nine false or misleading statements in such a short text might well be a new record, even for homeopaths. Perhaps the BHA should apply for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

Should we start a petition?

45 Responses to The pathetic arguments of the British Homeopathic Association in defence of homeopathy on the NHS

  • The petition closed on 13 March 2018 and they had gathered only one third of the signatures they needed to have the issue discussed in Parliament.

    The Government responded to the petition when it reached 10,000 signatures. They, not surprisingly, reiterated their position (as set out in their response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee report on homeopathy in 2010) that it’s up to local NHS organisations to decide on the commissioning and funding of these #treatments’ and reminding them that NHS England have already had a consultation on this last year (to which the BHA submitted a response). They also said:

    The Department of Health supports an approach to evidence-based prescribing which does not support the commissioning of services which are not clinically and cost effective. We are not aware of any evidence that demonstrates the therapeutic effectiveness of homeopathic products. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not currently recommend that homeopathy should be used in the treatment of any health condition, whilst primary care prescribing data shows that there has been a significant decline in the prescribing of homeopathic products over the last 10 years. Furthermore, a good number of NHS organisations are reviewing their funding of homeopathic treatments and some have already stopped funding such treatment altogether.

    In light of this, it’s not at all clear what the BHA thought they might achieve by a petition rather than say, providing robust scientific evidence for homeopathy.

  • A belief in homeopathy betokens an inability to think in a rational, critical and linear fashion. The continuing wibblings of the BHA, SOH and their ilk should come as no surprise.

  • Most private homeopaths say that an initial consultation takes up to 1.5 hours. I am wondering whether an NHS GP who is a homeopath sticks to the standard 10 minute consultation. If they do what their homeopathic training tells them to do, they could not. So whereas the NHS won’t pay for the prescription, it ends up paying for the GP’s time which is far more. It would be fascinating to test this hypothesis.

    • They aren’t “homeopaths” in general. With the exception of Sikorski, the GPs who routinely prescribe are Anthroposophists. Likely responsible for the majority of spend on herbal products too.

    • @LesRose It is my understanding that initial homeopathic consultations are 30 minutes. When necessary, in person clinic visits are shorter. Follow-up visits can also be accomplished via phone, email or through the attending homeopath’s private practice at no cost to taxpayers. When compared with conventional practice, with homeopathy there is less need for use of objective diagnostic services and expensive prescription medications. As you know, Rx medications often pose their own set of sequelae, and more medication(s) to counteract them (e.g., the excessively dry mouth or syncope caused by beta blockers for example). Finally, I personally know of several NHS patients who have had their presenting complaints solved within a few visits over a few months time, with no need for acute or ongoing chronic care. Instead of continuing conjectures, I would urge cost benefit outcome studies comparing the two modalities.

      • And I personally know of several NHS patients who have had their presenting complaints solved over a few months time, with no need for any consultation or treatment..

        • Complaints such as tachy or bradycardia, the pain of kidney or gallstones, would not fall within the realm of self resolving criteria. As you know, properly prescribed homeopathic remedies have been known to dissolve renal calculi without the need for surgical intervention.

          • “Complaints such as tachy or bradycardia, the pain of kidney or gallstones, would not fall within the realm of self resolving criteria.”
            BUT THEY DO, THEY DO!!!
            “As you know, properly prescribed homeopathic remedies have been known to dissolve renal calculi without the need for surgical intervention.”
            NO, I DON’T KNOW THAT; CAN YOU SHOW US SOME EVIDENCE OF IT?

          • @ Sandra
            “…have been known to dissolve renal calculi without the need for surgical intervention”.
            This is inaccurate. There needs to first be a reduction of T10 and Atlas subluxations by a well-trained Chiropractor, a Scientology auditing session, ear candeling and a Catholic novena…..THEN the homeopathic remedy will have its effect….not a moment before.
            Why don’t you do some rudimentary research before commenting and proving your ignorance.

          • @sandra lied: “As you know, properly prescribed homeopathic remedies have been known to dissolve renal calculi without the need for surgical intervention.”

            Yeah… That’s bollocks.

            Robust citations from respected medical journals needed.

          • the pain of kidney … would not fall within the realm of self resolving criteria.

            Nonsense! I occasionally get renal colic; it has always self-resolved. Damned painful when it does so, but I’ve never (yet) needed surgery.

            As you know, properly prescribed homeopathic remedies have been known to dissolve renal calculi without the need for surgical intervention.

            One of the things I do when I get a kidney stone is drink several pints of homeopathy. It doesn’t dissolve them, but it does seem to help to flush them out more quickly.

        • Ernst: “And I personally know of several NHS patients who have had their presenting complaints solved over a few months time, with no need for any consultation or treatment.”

          AS A CLINICIAN CAN YOU ELABORATE FURTHER? DID THESE SEVERAL NHS PATIENTS YOU KNOW WHO “had no need for any consultation or treatment” PRESENT WITH INITIAL COMPLAINTS INVOLVING ANY LIFE THREATENING CARDIAC, PULMONARY, GENITOURINARY OR REPRODUCTIVE ORGAN SYSTEM COMPLAINTS?

          • Guff, Sandra. Pure guff. Stop thinking you’re playing rhetorical tricks. You aren’t and you can’t.

            Let’s set this out very simply. So you can understand it. You believe homeopathy works. Show us the evidence which will persuade us. If it’s that magnificent a medicine, it should be pretty easy for you to do so.

      • Sandra said:

        It is my understanding that initial homeopathic consultations are 30 minutes.

        The Society of Homeopaths state:

        This first consultation will usually take between one and two hours, depending on the practitioner.

        Are they wrong or is it your understanding that is wrong?

        • maybe Sandra does not even understand homeopathy?

          • That can be added to the list…

          • @Ernst No answer to my question then? I’ll repeat it below.

            Ernst: “And I personally know of several NHS patients who have had their presenting complaints solved over a few months time, with no need for any consultation or treatment.”

            AS A CLINICIAN CAN YOU ELABORATE FURTHER? DID THESE SEVERAL NHS PATIENTS YOU KNOW WHO “had no need for any consultation or treatment” PRESENT WITH INITIAL COMPLAINTS INVOLVING ANY LIFE THREATENING CARDIAC, PULMONARY, GENITOURINARY OR REPRODUCTIVE ORGAN SYSTEM COMPLAINTS?

    • Having looked at the OpenPrescribing project data, there’s lots of things that it doesn’t tell us. One key thing being whether prescriptions are new or repeat. It doesn’t tell us what conditions anthroposophical medicines are being prescribed for or anything about the patients.

      However, much of the guff from the BHA seems to suggest a considerable proportion of NHS homeopathy patients have incurable chronic conditions. It seems likely that they will have repeat after repeat prescriptions. The issuing of repeat prescriptions generally does not require a GP appointment.

      There were 2,440 homeopathic items prescribed in 2016 by NHS England GPs. Mostly by Anthoposophists in breach of local formulary. That could be as few as 204 patients if they all were on repeats and were prescribed a single product. But in the absence of data it is impossible to be certain.

  • Very interesting, if a bit subtle, comment from the DoH:

    “The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not currently recommend that homeopathy should be used in the treatment of any health condition.”

    Of course it doesn’t, never has.
    But ‘not recommending’ is not the obverse of ‘recommending’.
    NICE has never offered any opinion whatsoever on homeopathy.

    BMA policy is that homeopathy should not be used by anyone in the NHS ‘unless and until NICE reviews and reports on its cost effectiveness.’
    I asked Sir Michael Rawlins (no relation), when he was chairman of NICE, why NICE did not review and report, and he answered that “persons of importance wouldn’t like it”!

    But those of us keen to encourage critical thinking and demonstrate intellectual and professional integrity should now be emphasising: “NICE does not recommend homeopathy.”

    I do hope persons of importance will come to their senses soon, although given their enthusiasm for ‘integrated medicine’, I am not holding my breath.

    Is there a homeopathic remedy for ‘suffering from a lack of critical thinking’?

  • I said: “Complaints such as tachy or bradycardia, the pain of kidney or gallstones, would not fall within the realm of self resolving criteria.”

    Ernst replied: BUT THEY DO, THEY DO!!!

    My reply: Looking forward to your cited examples. Further, would you agree that the severity of a patient’s presenting complaints and contributing factors via physical exam and objective findings should always dictate the appropriate intervention by either immediate measures or by adopting a wait and see approach?

    I said: “As you know, properly prescribed homeopathic remedies have been known to dissolve renal calculi without the need for surgical intervention.”

    Ernst replied: NO, I DON’T KNOW THAT; CAN YOU SHOW US SOME EVIDENCE OF IT?

    Surely, you jest. Something other than a flippant YELLING reply would be more appropriate

    • “My reply: Looking forward to your cited examples.”
      IF YOU STUDY AND PRACTICE REAL MEDICINE, YOU SEE THOSE CASES. THEY ARE NOT PUBLISHED BECAUSE NOBODY PUBLISHES NORMALITY.
      [i don’t yell at you, but i use capital letters to set my response apart from your writing]

      • “My reply: Looking forward to your cited examples.”

        IF YOU STUDY AND PRACTICE REAL MEDICINE, YOU SEE THOSE CASES. THEY ARE NOT PUBLISHED BECAUSE NOBODY PUBLISHES NORMALITY.

        To me, that’s a curious answer. The examples you SEE. Are they anecdotal evidence that is accepted as appropriate evidence of validity? Additionally, since you are a studying & practicing REAL MEDICINE clinician, in 1/1,000 patients how often would you speculate self-resolution in these instances occurs? This would be statistically important for any current and future funding decisions, would it not?

        • the natural history of a condition is NOT anecdotal.

        • Sandra said: “To me, that’s a curious answer.”

          Of course it’s a curious answer. You have a poor grasp on the research and almost every medical topic. There is no expectation that you would know what “normal” is.

          Your curiosity at the answer doesn’t invalidate it either.

        • Sandra

          Homeopathic remedies are inert and have no therapeutic value beyond placebo. If you have credible evidence which demonstrates otherwise, please provide it. Laughable and meaningless anecdotes about, for example, how it saved your life when you were being poisoned by your fillings will be treated with the contempt they deserve. Foolish arguments about semantics do nothing to alter the long-proven fact that homeopathy is nonesense on stilts. That you are incapable of recognising this despite the overwhelming evidence to prove it demonstrates your wilful pig-headedness. As such, your opinions and comments are of no value other than their showing your continued ignorance.

      • Edzard said:

        i don’t yell at you, but i use capital letters to set my response apart from your writing

        There really is no need. The differentiation is perfectly clear to anyone with any intelligence.

  • @Ernst I would be most grateful if perhaps you’ll find the time (perhaps tomorrow) to answer my question, posed once again below.

    Of the several NHS patients you mentioned that you know personally (who presented with complaints that had “no need for any consultation or treatment” implying that they were self-limiting in nature) present with complaints involving any life threatening cardiac, pulmonary, genitourinary, gastrointestinal or reproductive organ system complaints that could possibly be pathological in nature?

  • @Ernst

    Ernst stated: And I personally know of several NHS patients who have had their presenting complaints solved over a few months time, with no need for any consultation or treatment.

    1. Did any of the complaints involve the GI, GU, cardiopulmonary, venous, musculoskeletal, or reproductive organ systems?
    2. Was there a precipitating psychological contributor; e.g. history of anxiety, depression, etc?
    3. Was any form of diagnostic testing performed that reassured these patients their complaints had totally resolved naturally, without possible underlying sequelae?

    A research study of the statistical occurrence of this phenomena in NHS patients would be most interesting.

    • I have decided that you have too little understanding of medicine, science, English or even basic logic and common sense to discuss further with you.

      • You dare question the medical qualifications of a former transcriptionist?

        Sandra isn’t worth wasting time on. Leave her to her haples wibbling.

      • @Ernst Easy out? Too embarrassing for you? Cowardice does not become you.

        “I have decided that you have too little understanding of medicine, science, English or even basic logic and common sense to discuss further with you.”

        “Personal or ad hominem attacks are fallacious arguments directly directed at a named individual which serve as substitutes for that individual’s arguments. In football terminology, they play the player instead of the ball.” Professor Ernst blog post of 12/22/2012

        • I have decided that you have too little understanding of medicine, science, English or even basic logic and common sense to discuss further with you.

          I don’t see any ad hominem in that. I cannot understand what on earth was your argument anyway, either.

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