(from That Mitchell and Webb Look, Series 3 Episode 4)
Homeopathy is a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that has been shown to be no more effective than placebo (a.k.a. the nocebo effect). Worryingly, it is available on the NHS (for reasons of “patient choice” rather than efficacy) and Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, has recently publicly supported homeopathy.
While some people think that homeopathy can cure cancer, I would recommend having a look at some of these sources: Ben Goldacre, David Colquhoun, Simon Singh and James Randi.
And then ask yourself: how does homeopathy work?
I recently wrote to Don Foster (MP for Bath) on this subject, on the appointment of Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary. I received this response from Jeremy Hunt (via Don Foster) yesterday (response dated 11 October 2012):
While there may be some justification in the principle of allowing the NHS, as distinct from the Department of Health, to make decisions about deciding what treatments to provide, I think that the Health Secretary’s response is weak, and fails to take any responsibility in this area.
It is now massively clear the Government accepts that homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo, and is nevertheless unwilling to remove it from the list of acceptable treatments.
So…what happens next?
Indeed. Certainly worth reading the Department of Health’s response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report.
The communication issues surrounding the Select Committee report were the subject of an essay I wrote my MSc Science Communication:
It’s fascinating to see what happens when politics meets evidence.
Thanks Alex, great read.
Jeremy Hunt: “I’ll be guided by science“
I listened to his interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning (worth listening from 2:40:00) and he refused to be drawn on whether there was any scientific evidence to underpin his beliefs.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01nbt96 [Ums and erms removed.]
This homeopathy exchange follows the abortion exchange, and begins at 2:42:08:
ED: “Yes, and what they also care about, though, is whether the Health Secretary has a view that respects science. And again, you’ve been criticized over your views on homeopathy; you believe, do you, that homeopathy works?”
JH: “I believe that all my decisions as Health Secretary should be based on science, and should be evidence-based, and driven by the evidence, and that is how I will …”
ED interrupts: “And do you believe homeopathy works?”
JH: “I will follow the scientific evidence.”
ED interrupts:”Which, overwhelmingly, is that it doesn’t, isn’t it? There’s no sort of cause and effect; there’s no reason why homeopathic remedies would work. That’s what the scientists say; it’s what the Commons Science and Technology Committee decided in 2010. But you still think it might?”
JH: “And I will follow their advice.”
ED: “Sorry, so I’m not clear on whether you think homeopathy works or not.”
JH: “Well, I’ve said I will follow … in everything I do I’m going to follow the scientific advice. I think … that is the right thing to do.”
ED interrupts: “You’re not going to tell us what you personally believe?”
JH: “Well, I think the important thing as Health Secretary is that I take decisions based on scientific advice, and that’s what your listeners want to know … and you know, I also …”
ED interrupts: “So if the doctors say – if scientists say – as they overwhelmingly do – that homeopathy is … doesn’t work, you accept that they are right, and previously where you’ve seemed to support it, you would have been wrong?”
JH: “I … you know, previously said, and we have to some humility about what we don’t know as well as what we do know, but I will follow that scientific advice absolutely; that’s my job as Health Secretary.”
ED: “Jeremy Hunt, thank you very much.”
Now this “scientific advice” advice is clear: the following paragraph is from p42 of the Science and Technology Committee report referred to above (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/45/45.pdf):
“157. By providing homeopathy on the NHS and allowing MHRA licensing of products which subsequently appear on pharmacy shelves, the Government runs the risk of endorsing homeopathy as an efficacious system of medicine. To maintain patient trust, choice and safety, the Government should not endorse the use of placebo treatments, including homeopathy. Homeopathy should not be funded on the NHS and the MHRA should stop licensing homeopathic products.”
It appears in bold (in its entirety) in the original, as the final of five items (the others are not bold) in the Conclusions section, before the Conclusions and Recommendations.
It’s hard to see how the Committee could be any more clear in this advice.
So can we assume that the Health Secretary will now “follow that scientific advice absolutely”?
Cheers Dave, that’s really useful.
You can also see more of Hunt’s evidence vs. values quandary on abortion, via Mark Henderson’s blog.
While I agree that homeopathy should not be funded by the NHS, not least because it’s so cheap that there’s no need, to write it off as a placebo is probably to seriously underestimate it. Homeopathy is widely used for the treatment of animals and livestock, with demonstrable success. The great thing about treating animals is that they a) don’t know they’ve been treated, and b) would not demonstrate a placebo effect even if they did. If homeopathy works on animals then it is demonstrably efficacious. Unfortunately for the BMA, GMC, and other proponents of modern medicine who deride it, homeopathy does work on animals, and is routinely used, and recommended by veterinary surgeons, to successfully treat ailments and conditions which modern pharmaceuticals are unable to assist with, and which would otherwise be incurable.
And no, having seen homeopathy work consistently and repeatedly when used appropriately, I don’t believe it can cure cancer either. But to claim that it doesn’t work would be to ignore solid evidence to the contrary, a most unscientific position.
Ah, just realised the problem – modern medicine has little foundation in science. There is plenty of evidence of results being falsified to support well-established treatment A, or denigrate new and more effective treatment B, throughout NHS research. No, of course homeopathy doesn’t work, it can’t, it poses a risk to both pharmaceutical companies and the credibility of the many doctors who deny the efficacy of homeopathy, so it can’t work. Giving credence to homeopathy is like believing in imaginary numbers.