Posts Tagged NHS

Homeopathy in the Wirral: RIP

As I’ve covered previously, the position of homeopathy on the NHS in the Wirral region has been under review, with the Professional Executive Committee evaluating the future continuation of the 200-year-old non-science in the wake of dwindling patient interest.

Following the open meeting of March 10th to discuss proposals to cut homeopathy from the budget, the PEC collected their thoughts and formally presented them to the Wirral NHS Board. This meeting took place on the 22 March 2011, and unsurprisingly attracted the attention of the North West ‘Friends’ of Homeopathy, whose very vocal envoy John Cook persuaded the board to allow him to present his objections to their proposal. Readers of the previous blog or listeners to Skeptics with a K will know John well, and his forthright advocacy style.

Fortunately, a local councillor is a supporter and friend of the MSS, and he was able to equally persuade the board to allow an external voice of support into the meeting to counter the objections of the homeopathic lobby – which is why I found myself called upon to give a 5-minute speech in favour of disposing with the sugar pills once and for all.

The exact text of the speech is presented below, and my opportunity to present it came immediately after 5 minutes from the homeopaths, in which the main thrust of their argument was:

  • The consultation process had not been as robust as one would hope (essentially attempting to get off on a technicality)
  • Homeopathy does indeed work and there is science to prove it
  • Homeopathy is used by 10% of the population (a somewhat spurious figure brilliantly put into context by the board, who pointed out that the 60 affected patients in the Wirral each year are in fact just 0.02% of the population)
  • Those who seek to end funding for homeopathy are in fact attempting to ban it, with similar zeal to the calls to rid the world from smallpox.

I’ve no doubt that John will be able to offer a fuller clarification of these points below, and I welcome him doing so if he so wishes. Following this argument, I took to the rather official-looking table with it’s little microphone, the eyes of the board upon me, and began: Read the rest of this entry »

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NHS Wirral and The North West Friends Of Homeopathy: A Typical Wednesday Evening Out

I’ve had a rather interesting evening. Last week, MSS member and local councillor Darren Dodds alerted me to the fact that Wirral NHS were holding an open meeting to discuss whether to continue funding homeopathy in the region, with the recommendation being very much ‘No, we absolutely shouldn’t’. Needless to say, I agree with this recommendation, and wanted to go along to let them know that I – and by extension the hundred or more local MSS members – applaud their step in the right direction. Interested parties should read the report they came up with, it’s really pretty good. Some highlights:

The paper concludes that the lack of evidence on efficacy and cost-effectiveness of homeopathic therapies means that it should not be a high priority for the PCT at this time. It is recommended that NHS Wirral does not commission homeopathictherapies.

The key risk is that NHS Wirral fails to maintain its reputation as an evidence-based commissioning PCT.

Excellent stuff. Still, it seems we weren’t the only ones made aware of the open meeting – also invited were patients currently or formerly using homeopathy, and the ‘North West Friends of Homeopathy‘. This latter group are most interesting, and I’ll come back to them a little later in more detail, but first it’s worth pointing out that I appeared on local radio with a member of the group on Monday morning, in an exchange that might amuse, and will certainly give a far better impression of who John Cook is than I could ever do justice with words. UK-based readers can listen here, it starts around the 2hour 13minute mark and lasts about 10 minutes. I’ll wait.

For those not able, willing or interested in listening, what we have from John is a charming ability to hog a conversation, and the maniacal insistence that the date of the meeting was aired. Clearly, John wanted his supporters to arrive mob-handed. Fair enough, he probably feels he has a strong case. As it was, when I arrived with a couple of other MSS members there were maybe 40 or so people present, a number which I presume to be in excess of the general norm for these meetings.

John, having lobbied for inclusion, was amongst the speakers, joined by Dr. Hugh Neilsen BA MA BM BCh MRCP FFHom (it’s worth pointing out that his name is actually Hugh Nielsen, and the NWFoH’s own website, while painstaking in it’s detail of Hugh’s many qualifications, mispells the name of their own president), and the panel was completed by two local GPs who were involved in making the recommendation, and who spent the evening ranging between bemused, compassionate and at times startled. Startled, not least, by the quite spectacular opening by John, the homeopath’s friend (which I imagine is rather like a Fisherman’s Friend, but lacking in clout), in which he directed a quite flattering string of insults at me directly, and at the Merseyside Skeptics Society. Read the rest of this entry »

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NHS Highland ends support for homeopathy

10:23 Campaign

The 10:23 Campaign

In light of the recommendation by Dr Margaret Somerville to end support for homeopathy on the NHS in Scotland, the 10:23 Campaign reiterate our stance that NHS support for this disproven quackery must be withdrawn immediately.

Speaking in response to an investigation by the BBC, which included the exposure of three homeopaths willing to treat patients with ineffective homeopathic ‘alternatives’ to the life-saving MMR vaccine, Dr Somerville described a “settled, clear and unambiguous clinical opinion” that homeopathy should not be used in the NHS and advised support be ended immediately – advice which has been taken on board by the NHS Highland, who opted to cease funding for the treatments today.

Michael Marshall, speaking on behalf of the 10:23 Campaign, today offered support for Dr Somerville’s statement:

“It’s immensely encouraging to see the Director of Public Health for the NHS Highland making so categorical and clear a statement, and to see the board follow through with decisive action. The evidence for the use of homeopathy is at best poor, and at worst non-existent. While belief may exist amongst practitioners that further studies are needed, such studies should be undertaken at their expense, rather than supporting the ineffective therapy with funding from taxpayer’s money in the meantime.

Speaking of the revelations in the BBC investigation, Mr Marshall continued:

“That the BBC found homeopaths willing to partake in some highly dubious and downright dangerous practices is little surprise to those of us familiar with the system of homeopathy. While homeopathic treatments themselves are often harmless – indeed, they’re chemically indistinguishable from simple sugar pills – the associated anti-scientific philosophy is often a breeding ground for poor health information and anti-vaccination propaganda.

This isn’t the first time such dangerous advice given by homeopaths has been exposed – a previous BBC investigation revealed homeopaths willing to offer ineffective replacements for anti-malarial drugs, and our own investigations have found countless tales of other homeopaths willing to offer treatments for AIDS, cancer and all manner of genuinely serious illnesses, based on no proof of efficacy and no reason to believe homeopathy to be useful.

This investigation didn’t reveal merely three rotten apples in an otherwise sound barrel, it exposed symptoms of a rotten system – teaching anti-science and actively promoting dangerous health information. It’s for these reasons that we applaud Dr Somerville, and all who similarly campaign for sense to triuph over nonsense, and it’s for these reasons that we strongly applaud the action from the NHS Highland and urge other areas of the NHS to follow suit”.

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Homeopathy and the 10:23 Campaign

10:23 Campaign

The 10:23 Campaign

On January 30th, 2010, at exactly 10:23am, large groups of skeptics will gather in the town centres of around a dozen cities in the UK and consume a full bottle of homeopathic pills, in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of homeopathy. Marsh explains why…

Homeopathy in the UK is alarmingly pervasive – setting aside the fact that the industry is worth an estimated £40million per year, the National Health Service actually plows £4million per year of taxpayers’ money into providing sugar pills as a Complementary Alternative Medicine – much of which goes into the upkeep of the four government-run homeopathic hospitals. That figure doesn’t even take into account the £20 million spent on the redevelopment of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. According to the British Homeopathy Association, more than 400 GPs regularly refer patients to homeopaths. Homeopathy is everywhere. And then we have the UK’s leading pharmacy, Boots…

Boots are as much a British national institution as the Royal family, the BBC and the sense of quiet superiority over our former colonies. Yet this well-respected and trusted organisation lends its well-earned reputation to quackery in the sale of homeopathic remedies (including it’s own-brand range) alongside real medicine. What’s more, their decision to stock these sugar pills is compounded by the fact that they have no real belief in their effectiveness, as became clear in the laugh-a-minute evidence check session, where Boots’ Professional Stand-up Com… sorry, Professional Standards Director Paul Bennett admitted the company’s policy of selling homeopathic remedies was based not on a belief that they work, but in a belief that they sell, and sell well. And that’s before we even take a look inside the Pandora’s box that is the Boots Learning Store – Alternative Medicine module (sample statement: ‘Foxglove (Digitalis) extract is used in the treatment of heart failure’). Read the rest of this entry »

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The Doctor Says: There May Be Trouble Ahead

Dr Selva Rasaiah is a regular at Merseyside Skeptics in the Pub. Here, in response to my support for real medicine, he takes an inside look at the NHS, and doesn’t like what he sees…

The other day, I read Marsh’s latest post ‘Real Medicine: I Wonder’ with interest – as (hopefully!) one of the “good doctors” he wrote of, I would like to report all is well within the NHS. Unfortunately I can’t. Virtually all the comments on his piece were positive about the use of conventional medicine, but an important point was raised regarding the care of osteoarthritic hip pain. Currently the options for “wear and tear” arthritis are very limited, the options being:

  1. do nothing
  2. take painkillers
  3. hip replacement surgery.

The only definitive treatment is option 3, which for most patients is a life changing procedure. Unfortunately it has a limited lifespan, and in general is only offered to more severely affected patients. As this condition can start in the 50’s or younger, we have the difficult task of informing people that they will have to put up with the pain for many years before surgery will be considered. The problem with evidence based medicine (EBM) is that it leaves lots of gaps, which CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) is more than happy to fill.

On a daily basis, we have to inform patients that their self limiting viral illness/gastroenteritis etc. will not respond to antibiotics. It is so easy to skip the explanation and just dish out the pills, but with the advent of MRSA and other drug resistant nasties, the finger is pointing more and more at “irresponsible GP’s” and their over-prescribing of antibiotics as the cause of this new epidemic. How tempting it would therefore be to prescribe a harmless placebo that might make people feel better, psychologically if not physically. There is however, something inherently dishonest about this approach that would prevent me and most of my colleagues from doing so.

However, a small – but noisy – bunch of GPs DO seem to have followed this route, and regularly post articles and comments in GP magazines. Read the rest of this entry »

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NICE work: acupuncture coming to a primary care trust near you

When I first set up Merseyside Skeptics, I had only one real rule in mind – “no sacred cows”.

I’m always fascinated by which ideas people hold as their metaphorical cow.  A few years ago, when I first started getting enthusiastic about skepticism, I was ranting in the pub with a doctor friend of mine about homeopathy, crystal healing, iridology, and their friends.  We laughed and joked together about the implausibility of it all and the lack of credible evidence, until I mentioned acupuncture.  Suddenly, his face fell and his tone became more stern. “Actually, acupuncture is effective and there are good scientific reasons for that.”

I was briefly taken aback by this.  My friend is one of the most fiercely scientifically-minded people I know, to the point where he has been accused of bringing down a fun, but daft, conversation by pointing out how daft it is from a scientific stand point.  He was the last person I would have expected to claim efficacy for a pseudomedical practice like acupuncture and looking back now, I should have asked him to explain.  Instead, the subject was dropped, glasses were refilled and conversation breezed on to something else.

Read the rest of this entry »

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