Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Homeopathy and the NHS - update

In May, the British Medical Association's annual conference of junior doctors declared that homeopathy is witchcraft and now the BMA’s conference in Brighton has voted overwhelmingly against commissioning or funding for homeopathic remedies or homeopathic hospitals in the health service. They also want training posts in homeopathic hospitals scrapped.

What’s more, pharmacists should remove homeopathic remedies from their shelves because this strongly suggests to the public they are medicines. Instead they should be put in a section marked ‘placebos’.

This may well be a step too far because, as we know, Boots doesn’t sell homeopathy because it works, they sell it because people like to buy it. In case you’ve forgotten - a spokesman for Boots said: "I have no evidence to suggest that [homeopathic remedies] are efficacious. It's about consumer choice and a large number of our customers think they work."

Dr Mary McCarthy, a GP at the conference, said: ‘We are not asking for homeopathy to be stopped and it will allow those who want to do it to continue to use it. What we are asking is that it’s not funded by the scarce NHS resources.’

OK, so it’s not witchcraft

BMA junior doctors’ committee vice-chair Tom Dolphin, who first proposed banning homeopathy at the BMA annual junior doctors conference in May, said: ‘I got into trouble for saying at the juniors conference that homeopathy is witchcraft.

'I take that back and apologise to the witches I apparently offended by association. Homeopathy isn’t witchcraft — it is nonsense on stilts. It is pernicious nonsense that feeds into a rising wave of irrationality that threatens the hard won gains of the enlightenment, and the scientific method.’

He warned that society risked ‘sinking back into a state of magical thinking, where made-up science passes for rational discourse, and wishing for something to be true counts as proof’.

Tell it like it is, Tom.

There were, of course, supporters of homeopathy at the conference and protesting outside.

Dr David Shipstone, a urologist, said it would be unfair to pick on homeopathy as there were plenty of other treatments which were used by doctors despite a lack of categorical evidence they worked. He said: "What is valid scientific evidence? Academics can argue about it all day."

It’s not about valid evidence in this case, but about the total lack of evidence even after 200 or so trials. Unless by ‘valid’ he means ‘imaginary’ – or possibly homeopathic evidence is so dilute that it contains no evidence at all.

BMA board of science chair-elect Averil Mansfield said: ‘What we want to be supporting and promoting is things that have scientific evidence. The resources are small in the NHS and that I think has to be our central priority.’

The Department of Health said it was looking into the issue:
"The department is considering issues to do with homeopathic remedies and hospitals as part of the government's response to the Science and Technology Committee's report on homeopathy. The response will be issued soon."

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