Archive for category Pseudomedicine
On the 26th January, the Merseyside Skeptics Society sent a letter to the editors of the Liverpool ECHO and Mirror, concerning their uncritical promotion of Gerson treatment and other alternative cancer ‘cures’ in their Saturday 21st January editions.
UPDATE: our letter was published in the print edition of the Liverpool ECHO on the 27th January.
Promotion of disproven treatments puts vulnerable patients at risk
Saturday’s edition of the Liverpool Echo featured the story of Sean Walsh, a local cancer patient who has elected to ignore the advice of doctors and to refuse treatment for his condition (Man with cancer beats 8 month prognosis – despite shunning hospital treatment, Liverpool Echo, January 21st 2017).
While we sincerely wish Mr Walsh the best of health, we believe the article’s uncritical promotion of his regime of alternative ‘treatments’ is deeply troubling and irresponsible.
Throughout the article Mr Walsh’s choice to dismiss the advice of cancer specialists is praised, with his “different approach” to treatment described as being “gentler on his body”. Also troubling is the positive report that Mr Walsh is “bringing his knowledge back to the UK to help people in Liverpool” – a statement which can only be seen as encouraging other vulnerable cancer patients to follow his example. This is the kind of advice which can lead people to make dangerous and misinformed choices with their healthcare, with potentially lethal consequences.
The Echo may argue that the inclusion of an opinion from Cancer Research UK absolves the newspaper of any culpability for its promotion of these dangerous quack treatments; given that the overwhelming majority of the article is dedicated to the uncritical promotion of disproven therapies, this justification holds little weight.
The treatments promoted in the article have been investigated and studied, by independent researchers and professionals, and for each there is no suggestion that they are worthy of any of the faith some patients and practitioners place in them. There are, however, hundreds of very vulnerable patients who have sadly been convinced by savvy practitioners of regimes like the Gerson regime to waste thousands of pounds – and, worse, critical treatment time – on interventions that have been comprehensively disproven. For many hopeful patients, their last months were spent not in the company of their loved ones, but in a foreign country, undergoing an invasive, deeply uncomfortable and fruitless regime of enemas, vitamin injections, restrictive diets and false hope.
The clinics offering these types of treatment are often based abroad, in jurisdictions where regulations are more lax, allowing them to continue making claims and advertising cures without good evidence of effectiveness. They often promote their successes with case studies and testimonials of ‘cured’ patients – sadly, too often those testimonials are quietly removed from their literature when the patient succumb to their disease. For the clinics, there is little or no repercussion, they merely erase the patient from their literature and carry on; for the patients and their families and friends, there is only heartbreak and tragedy.
The miraculous claims for ‘alternative’ cancer cures make for impressive headlines which are doubtlessly seductive, but as a responsible publication you have a duty to your readers to put truth ahead of sensationalism. By promoting these so-called cures without scrutiny, the Echo lends these dangerous quackeries the legitimacy of the publication’s well-earned reputation, and promotes clear misinformation to some of the most vulnerable of its readers.
We sincerely hope that Mr Walsh’s condition is as positive as he believes it is. However, it is almost certain that any recovery he has made has nothing to do with the ruinously-expensive diet and vitamin regime he has been sold; it is unlikely that the next Echo reader to follow the advice promoted in this article will be so fortunate.
Alice Howarth – Research associate, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool; and Company Secretary of the Merseyside Skeptics Society
Professor Sarah Coupland – Director of the NWCR-UoL Cancer Research Centre
Professor Andrea Varro – Principle investigator, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Professor Michael Clague – Principle investigator, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doctor Diana Moss – Principle investigator, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doctor Ewan MacDonald – Post-doctoral research associate, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doctor Fiona Hood – Post-doctoral researcher, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doctor Adam Linley – Post-doctoral research associate, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Vicky Smith – Research technician, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Aitor Martinez-Zarate – Research associate, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Zohra Butt – Post-graduate researcher, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doug Grimes – Post-graduate researcher, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Leah Wilson – Post-graduate researcher, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Today, NHS Liverpool CCG officially voted to decommission their homeopathy service, ending the annual spend of NHS funds in the area on the disproven remedies. The decision came about as a result of a review which was prompted by the legal challenge brought by our friends at the Good Thinking Society in February 2015.
The review involved a formal public consultation and an online survey to understand how much support existed for homeopathy in the public, and particularly within Liverpool. We asked for supporters of the Merseyside Skeptics Society to let the CCG know your feelings, and we really are delighted to say that you came through, with 64% of Liverpool residents responding to call for an end to homeopathy funding.
Today’s result is a great victory for evidence-based medicine and for skeptical activism. It also convinces us even further of the importance of skeptical voices being involved in these public consultations. Currently, NHS Wirral CCG is undergoing a similar consultation to that of Liverpool, and they also have an online survey seeking your feedback. We hope we can rely on your support there too, and together we can help ensure that limited NHS funds in the North West are reserved for treatments that actually work.
Finally, it’s important to reiterate that this decision came about as a direct result of the work done by the Good Thinking Society. Their statement on the decision is below, and if you appreciate their work you can show your support by making a small monthly or one-off donation to help keep them going.
NHS Liverpool CCG ends funding for homeopathy
The Good Thinking Society welcomed today’s decision by NHS Liverpool CCG to decommission homeopathy services. The decision comes after months of public consultation which showed overwhelming support from Liverpool residents for an end to funding.
The report on the consultation, which came about after Good Thinking’s legal challenge to the CCG in February 2015, concluded that 64% of Liverpool residents consulted and 73% of overall respondents wanted to stop homeopathy funding immediately.
Interestingly, the report also found that many respondents did not understand the true nature of homeopathy, suggesting that the number of people calling to an end to the treatment may have been higher if it had been clearer that homeopathic remedies are not the same as ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ remedies, and in particular that homeopathic remedies typically contain no active ingredient at all.
Last year, skeptical charity the Good Thinking Society successfully challenged NHS Liverpool CCG over their decision to spend over £30,000 per year on homeopathic remedies. Given that homeopathy has proven to be nothing other than placebo, they argued that spending any money at all on this treatment was unjustifiable and possibly unlawful, and we at the Merseyside Skeptics Society supported them full. We’re expecting the results of the consultation soon, but meanwhile some of the few remaining CCGs to still fund homeopathy are beginning to conduct their own consultations, with NHS Wirral CCG next to seek the opinions of the public on the funding of homeopathy.
Please take a moment to share your thoughts with the CCG via their online survey, which is open to everyone, even if you are not a resident of the Wirral: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/WHDHW3X
This is a rare chance for us to make our opinions known. Liverpool CCG’s online consultation doubtlessly received responses from a great deal of homeopathy supporters, which we were hopefully able to balance out with the views of members of the general public, including scientists and rationalists. It is almost certain that this consultation by Wirral CCG will receive just as much attention from supporters of homeopathy. If supporters of evidence based medicine don’t speak up, the consultation will be swamped with homeopathy fans and funding may continue.
It takes less than 5 minutes for you to do your part to ensure the reputation of the NHS is not used to lend credibility to a system of alternative medicine that can offer no benefits to patients. Take the survey now >>
If you’d like to understand more about the consultation, the accompanying pages offer some insights into the issues surrounding homeopathy in the Wirral.
Once you’ve taken the survey, be sure to share it with friends and colleagues – the more support NHS Wirral CCG gets for ending homeopathy funding, the better chance we have of helping them make this decision happen.
You can also support the work the Good Thinking Society is doing to challenge NHS homeopathy by making a small monthly or one-off donation. It was their legal challenge which pressured Liverpool CCG to consult on homeopathy and which contributed to the pressure to consult in the Wirral, and it was their legal challenge which resulted in the current nationwide consultation on banning homeopathy prescriptions on the NHS. If you think that’s worth a fiver or a tenner, you can donate now.
Back in June the Good Thinking Society challenged NHS Liverpool CCG over their decision to spend over £30,000 per year on homeopathic remedies. Given that homeopathy has proven to be nothing other than placebo, Good Thinking (where I work full time as Project Director) argued that spending any money at all on this treatment was unjustifiable and possibly unlawful.
In June, NHS Liverpool CCG withdrew their funding decision and promised to re-consult on the issue. It’s now the time for supporters of evidence-based medicine to have their say, and to explain to NHS Liverpool CCG why spending money on treatments that don’t work is unacceptable.
The process is simple, and can be done via an online form: http://www.liverpooltalkshealth.info/homeopathy
After registering, the survey takes just 5 minutes to complete. If you are not a resident of Liverpool, you can still offer your views – simply skip the questions that require a Liverpool perspective.
This is a rare and genuine opportunity for the skeptical community to have our say, and to make our opinions known. If we do not speak up now, then only homeopaths will contribute to the consultation and funding will likely continue.
Please take 5 minutes to ensure the reputation of the NHS is not used to lend credibility to a system of alternative medicine that can offer no benefits to patients. Take the survey now >>
If you’d like to understand more about the consultation, the accompanying FAQs offer some insights into the issues surrounding homeopathy in Liverpool.
Once you’ve taken the survey, be sure to share it with friends and colleagues – the more support NHS Liverpool CCG gets for ending homeopathy funding, the better chance we have of helping them make this decision happen.
As reported in the Liverpool Echo today, NHS Liverpool CCG recently decided to reverse their decision to continue funding homeopathy after a successful legal challenge by our friends at the Good Thinking Society. As a result of the challenge, Liverpool CCG has elected to re-consult on the matter – a decision we at the Merseyside Skeptics Society wholeheartedly support.
As a Merseyside-based critical thinking group with a large number of members who live within the jurisdiction of Liverpool CCG, we believe it is time that our local NHS services were no longer burdened with the need to provide ineffective sugar pills to the unwell – not least at a time when NHS budgets are under great pressure. Since our inception in 2009 we have campaigned to spread awareness about the pseudoscientific nature of homeopathy and the clear failure of any homeopath to find credible evidence that homeopathic remedies are of any benefit at all, and we sincerely believe it is unacceptable for taxpayer funds to be wasted on treatments that have been comprehensively shown to be ineffective.
Liverpool CCG’s decision is a step in the right direction, and we look forward to the upcoming consultation with hope that a fair and sensible decision will be made, reflecting the lack of evidence for homeopathy and the need to offer the people of Liverpool quality healthcare founded on good evidence-based practices.
MSS President Mike Hall said of the decision: “Homeopaths have claimed that skeptics reject homeopathy because we don’t understand how it works. While the proposed mechanism of homeopathy is indeed nonsensical, we do not reject it for this reason. We reject it because in 200 years it has never been shown to have a reliable effect on the course of any medical condition. With an ageing and expanding population, it is right and proper to insist that our NHS funds only those treatments with a proven benefit for patients.”
We urge our supporters – and indeed anyone who wants to see NHS allocate their limited resources to treatments that have any hope of helping patients – to support Good Thinking’s campaign against wasting taxpayer funds on these ineffective and disproven treatments. Good Thinking are currently crowdfunding in order to mount further legal challenges similar to this successful one in Liverpool, and supporters can donate to the campaign online.
Update: Liverpool CCG has been in touch to ask us to make clear that homeopathy services are not being immediately withdrawn. Rather, they intent to return the decision to continue funding homeopathy to the consultation stage. Homeopathy will still be available during the consultation.
In November 2014, myself and two other Merseyside Skeptics Society members attended a seminar hosted by the charity Yes to Life in Manchester. Yes to Life is an organisation that offers advice to people diagnosed with cancer with a focus on “integrative therapies” – that is, a combination of conventional therapies with alternative therapies including diet, detox and lifestyle modification. Despite the latter being supported by little to no evidence, the talks at the seminar suggested a scientific basis for a number of alternative therapies to an audience of cancer sufferers and their loved ones.
I wrote of my concern about this for the Guardian Science Blog, which elicited an email response from Sue De Cesare, Executive Director of Yes to Life. I reproduce the email in full below Read the rest of this entry »