Reason Freely

Followup: Homeopathy in the UK

Posted in Uncategorized by reasonfreely on February 24, 2010

“Either we are governed by evidence and science, or by Prince Charles.” — Edzard Ernst, Peninsula Medical School

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has reviewed the claims of homeopathy and found it to be totally ineffectual in a report released Monday.   The Royal Homeopathic Hospital receives NHS funding, as do 3 other hospitals dedicated to homeopathic medicine in the United Kingdom.  Homeopathy has been funded by the NHS since the NHS was founded right after WWII.

“We conclude that placebos should not be routinely prescribed on the National Health Service,” the report says. It also says homeopathic hospitals should not be funded by the NHS, and NHS doctors should not refer patients to homeopaths. Currently the NHS funds four homeopathic hospitals. (New Scientist)

There is no evidence that homeopathy has anything other than a placebo effect, according to the Committee findings.  The remedies themselves are so highly diluted that even if “like cures like” was a valid remedial principal, they could not possibly work.  In other words, any benefit of homeopathic medicine is due to the placebo effect — the same thing that makes you feel better when mommy kisses your boo-boo.

At this time, however, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) is not taking action, though with the Committee’s findings they could — and should.  For one, withdrawing funding would anger the monarchs.  The use and inclusion of alternative medicine is supported by royal family who, it is rumored, also believe that there’s a sword stuck in a rock somewhere that only they can pull out.  Apparently their opinion matters inasmuch as they have a lot of treasure to throw around.  Just cutting off funding entirely would leave four major hospitals in a lurch, but they deserve it for peddling placebo snake oil.

There are several dangers to homeopathy.

1. Every penny they spend on homeopathy is a penny not spent on real medicine.  It is simply unethical to spend money on four hospitals for homeopathic treatment when they could be using that money on neonatal ICU equipment, training for real doctors, research on new treatments or medications that have been proven to work even just a little bit.

2. It lends credibility to alternative medicines, which (to paraphrase Tim Minchin) by definition have not been proven to work, or have been proven not to work (as in the case of homeopathy).  Or to quote another rationalist’s blog:

“People who would never think trusting “alternative flight” or “alternative engineering” seem to think that, when it comes to medicine, “alternative” medicine should be given a pass on being as rigorously reality- and science-based.”  —David Gorski

3. A democracy should not support approaches not based on evidence, because the founding principle of a democracy is free and informed decisions of the voters, their elected representatives, and the representatives’ appointed executives.   Free of claims of authority and tradition and informed by evidence and facts.

This wouldn’t be that big a deal if the hospitals were privately funded, but they receive government funding.

Estimates of the annual cost range from £157,000 on remedies to £4million in total. (Daily Mail)

Perhaps, if the royals think it’s so great, they should put their money where their mouth is and fund it out of their own discretionary and personal funds.

Read more at The Guardian and BBC websites.  Also at Science-Based Medicine.


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