Friday, 7 January 2011

Government cares more for Tiddles than for You

Physician treating a patient. Red-figure Attic...Image via Wikipedia

A little while back I published some correspondence with Francis Maude, my MP and now Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, discussing the report on homeopathy by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. I urged him to back their conclusions and to stop allowing public money to be spent on a treatment that hasn't been shown to work. In his reply he said:
Where a doctor and a patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient, I believe doctors should be free to prescribe that medicine. All therapies should be considered equally, and decisions on whether or not to provide them on the NHS should be evidence-based, as is the case with all other conventional medicines and treatments.
He took the approach that patient choice was an important aspect in the provision of homeopathy. One wonders, if someone requested hoodoo, or sexual healing, would he be so keen to support patient choice? I wrote back to him pointing out this paragraph from the report:
The Government’s position on homeopathy is confused. On the one hand, it accepts that homeopathy is a placebo treatment. This is an evidence-based view. On the other hand, it funds homeopathy on the NHS without taking a view on the ethics of providing placebo treatments. We argue that this undermines the relationship between NHS doctors and their patients, reduces real patient choice and puts patients’ health at risk. The Government should stop allowing the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.
...noting that the Committee's position was that homeopathy reduced patient choice. He replied:
I think this argument you refer to is flawed. The argument goes that patient choice is meaningless when patients are not properly informed about the implications of the treatments they are selecting, and thus diminishes "real" patient choice.
In arguing this, the Select Committee pass judgement on homeopathic treatments, labelling them a "phoney" or "fake" choice. I am not a medical expert, and would not like to make judgements of this kind in the place of experienced medical professionals. GPs rightly should provide information to patients about different treatments, and must be held to account for the decisions they and their patients make under their advisement. I would not seek to undermine this critically important relationship in this way.
It is difficult to see how taking this choice away from GPs and patients could constitute an increase in choice; in my opinion this is simply taking choice away.
Should patients also be supported by the NHS if they choose urine therapy too? Or would that be taking the piss? Of course, the major flaw here is that GPs are in no position to judge the efficacy of any particular treatment either; that is determined by peer-reviewed clinical trials. Despite not being a medical expert himself, and apparently unacquainted with the science, he still sees fit to support public funding of a treatment that hasn't been shown to work. So far, so inconsistent.

But now the government has decided to add another layer of inconsistency on top of this watered down approach. DEFRA have clamped down on the use of homeopathic remedies for animals:
Some herbal and homeopathic products are claiming medicinal benefits without scientific proof, meaning they may not properly treat or prevent serious diseases, leaving pets at risk.
The Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) Director of Operations, John FitzGerald, said:
“Some of these products are claiming to be effective and safe when no scientific evidence has been presented to us to show they are.
“Animal owners have a right to know if a product does what it claims. The products claim to treat diseases which can cause serious welfare problems and in some circumstances kill animals if not properly treated. So in some cases owners are giving remedies to their pets which don’t treat the problem.”

Bizarre; so these are the Government's current recommendations:

  • Animal owners cannot choose a homeopathic remedy in conjunction with their vet, because no scientific evidence has been presented to show they are effective and safe, but...
  • Patients can choose a homeopathic remedy in conjunction with their doctor, even though no scientific evidence has been presented to show they are effective and safe.

The government clearly doesn't care about our welfare as much as our pets'.

And note that they even allow us the freedom of choice to catch malaria; oh, sweet liberty!

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  • Dr. Nancy Malik says:
    8 January 2011 at 09:28

    Regarding "UK homeopathy update" video

    It talks about

    1. dilution not potentisation.Serial dilution alone is not potentisation.

    2. homeo-prophylaxis

    Preventive use of homeopathy (called homeo-prophylaxis) was first applied in 1799 during an epidemic of scarlet fever in Königslütter, Germany, when Dr. Hahnemann prescribed a single dose of Belladonna, as the remedy of the epidemic genius to susceptible children in the town with 100% success.


    3. 'Society of Homeopaths' position on homeopathy medicine

    They have already listed the evidence of homeopathy medicine on their website

    As far as status of homeopathy in UK is concerned, Dr Sara Eames, President of The Faculty of Homeopathy said, "The pilot is promising and confirms my own experience of treating NHS patients with homeopathy. The homeopathic hospitals are conducting meaningful treatment and observation of patients that is absolutely in line with the recommendations of the (Lord) Darzi Report.”

    The same BBC published in 2005: Bristol homeopathic hospital: 6 year study: 6544 patients: 70% patients reported clinical improvement following homeopathic treatment
    Ref: New Study is boost to Homoeopathy

  • Mark Jones says:
    8 January 2011 at 16:43

    Hi Nancy, thanks for commenting.

    I'm not an expert on these matters; could you explain why your expertise exceeds that of the many experts who have said that there is insufficient evidence that homeopathy works?

  • Mark Jones says:
    11 January 2011 at 04:18

    Just to re-iterate, from the Newsnight video, the advice of the UK government's own Chief Scientist, Sir John Beddington, is that "there is no scientific evidence to indicate that homeopathic remedies are efficacious and the fundamental underpinning of homeopathy seems to me to be scientific nonsense".

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