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MPs call for end to NHS funding of homeopathy
February 23, 2010 3:11 PM   Subscribe

In the UK, a government-lead evidence check by the Science and Technology Select Committee has lead to MPs calling for a end to funding of homeopathic remedies on the NHS.

This may well lead to the closure of NHS homeopathic hospitals, and set out new rules for the labeling of homeopathic products.

This is following protests in January over the sale of homeopathic products in pharmacies. Homeopaths around the world have been reacting in dismay.
posted by vodkaboots (71 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am experiencing a joy that no placebo can provide!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:20 PM on February 23, 2010 [34 favorites]


First they came for the homeopaths.
Way to score a Godwin in the headline. Now I don't even have to read the article.
posted by stinker at 3:20 PM on February 23, 2010


While the Government acknowledges there is no evidence that homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect (where a patient gets better because of their belief in the treatment), it does not intend to change or review its policies on NHS funding of homeopathy.

So it's a good first step but it's not necessarily the final one.

First they came for the homeopaths...

And I said "good, can you clear out the acupuncturists next?"
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:20 PM on February 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


I was astonished to learn about the hospitals-- I'd thought the silliness and wasted money was limited to the 'drugs.' It's nice to see a country react rationally to evidence. Sigh.
posted by Maias at 3:21 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


To aid discussion in this thread, I'd point everyone to this pretty informative arstechnica article on homepathy from 2007:

http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2007/09/the-pseudoscience-behind-homeopathy.ars
posted by pziemba at 3:21 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Time has come for Chiropranksty.
posted by zouhair at 3:23 PM on February 23, 2010


I remember walking into my newly local pharmacy and seeing a large display of homeopathic "medicines" and thinking... "WTF!?" Stuff like that shouldn't be in the same location as actual effective medicine.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 3:25 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


First they came for the homeopaths.

Cry more. But try to avoid swallowing the tears - you never know what the water might be remembering...
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:25 PM on February 23, 2010 [21 favorites]


But how will all the woo-woo crystal healing type people get placebos that they can believe in if we got rid of homeopathic remedies?
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:26 PM on February 23, 2010


The report doesn't mince words, either:
The Committee carried out an evidence check to test if the Government’s policies on homeopathy were based on sound evidence. The Committee found a mismatch between the evidence and policy. While the Government acknowledges there is no evidence that homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect (where a patient gets better because of their belief in the treatment), it does not intend to change or review its policies on NHS funding of homeopathy.

The Committee concurred with the Government that the evidence base shows that homeopathy is not efficacious (that is, it does not work beyond the placebo effect) and that explanations for why homeopathy would work are scientifically implausible.

The Committee concluded-given that the existing scientific literature showed no good evidence of efficacy-that further clinical trials of homeopathy could not be justified.

In the Committee’s view, homeopathy is a placebo treatment and the Government should have a policy on prescribing placebos. The Government is reluctant to address the appropriateness and ethics of prescribing placebos to patients, which usually relies on some degree of patient deception. Prescribing of placebos is not consistent with informed patient choice-which the Government claims is very important-as it means patients do not have all the information needed to make choice meaningful.

Beyond ethical issues and the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship, prescribing pure placebos is bad medicine. Their effect is unreliable and unpredictable and cannot form the sole basis of any treatment on the NHS.
Pretty blunt conclusions.
posted by darkstar at 3:27 PM on February 23, 2010


Let's just relabel real medicine as homeopathic and see if they notice a difference.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:28 PM on February 23, 2010


They could drop a shilling in an enormous bucket of water!
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:35 PM on February 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


Lentrohamsanin - I think the "While the Government acknowledges there is no evidence that homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect (where a patient gets better because of their belief in the treatment), it does not intend to change or review its policies on NHS funding of homeopathy." section is there because the report is referring to the current position of the UK government. The hope is that the goverment will listen to the committee's recommendation that it's current practice of funding homeopathy be stopped. Though at times the UK government's response to it's own advisers has been quite poor.
posted by vodkaboots at 3:35 PM on February 23, 2010


This thread won't be any fun until someone comes along with irrefutable anecdata about how it works.
posted by bonaldi at 3:37 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The government shouldn't be putting lead in anything, much less evidence checks.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:46 PM on February 23, 2010


Fine bonaldi.... I dropped a single molecule of vodka into a gallon jug of club soda then chugged it... I woke up in Vegas, in bed with twins, surrounded by piles of casino chips, with mike tyson's tiger locked in the bathroom
posted by spicynuts at 3:47 PM on February 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


If the government goes through with this, homeopaths will have to start stretching their medication. If an unscrupulous homeopath starts diluting his tinctures with water to make them last longer, we're going to see massive, massive homeopathic overdoses.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:52 PM on February 23, 2010 [25 favorites]


bonaldi, the BBC have turned up someone who claims that homeopathy cured her cancer. Will that do? (via Bad Science, of course.)
posted by Jakey at 3:52 PM on February 23, 2010


This thread won't be any fun until someone comes along with irrefutable anecdata about how it works.

And it will be the most fun possible if there is only one such someone and their anecdote is extremely brief.
posted by Rat Spatula at 3:54 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I will swear til the cows come home that the remedy "cantharsis" has always cured one of the nasty symptom of interstitial cystitis and that is the burning that often occurs on urinating that can bring you to tears it is so painful (like acid on a wound.)

Its never failed me and is so gentle and benign that I never have any side affects and with IC that is saying something as when your bladder is inflamed everything you eat and drink can irritate it.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2010


In light of the previous post, I guess I'm your pinata - go at it.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 4:01 PM on February 23, 2010


I will swear til the cows come home

I think you're in the wrong part of town for moo-testifying anecdata.
posted by lalochezia at 4:01 PM on February 23, 2010


Hmmm ... what are the working ingredients of "cantharsis"? In milligrams, say.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:06 PM on February 23, 2010


This thread won't be any fun until someone comes along with irrefutable anecdata about how it works.

I will swear til the cows come home...

And we have a winner! Right, let's get started people. You willing to undergo a double-blind, Tullyogallaghan?

My wife, for a brief period, was unfortunately into using a homeopathic sleep solution for our son when he was a baby. She didn't really get homeopathy, and thought it was synonymous with "herbal" or "natural" medicine. I pointed out to her, one day, that the main ingredient of this sleep formula was, technically, caffeine, and she quickly quit that shit.
posted by Jimbob at 4:07 PM on February 23, 2010


I don't see in Tullyogallaghan's account whether the remedy in question is herbal or homeopathic. And frankly, if it works for you, why stop using it?

But it's just distilled water, so you shouldn't pay over the going rate for it.
posted by Fraxas at 4:08 PM on February 23, 2010


Drinking water helps relieve uti. News at 11.
posted by Jakey at 4:09 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Time has come for Chiropranksty.

We can only hope. I used to live in an apartment complex that was close to what was at the time the largest "college" of chiroquacktic in the US (Life University, in Marietta, GA). A lot of my neighbors were associated with the school, either as students or faculty, and those people, to the very last one of them, scared the shit out of me. They would zealously and enthusiastically preach the gospel of chiropractic every chance they got. If you could mash up a campus military recruiter, a jehovah's witness, a Mac evangelist and a used-car salesman and you would just getting close to the level of preachiness. Even after spending nearly two years hearing the chiropractic sales pitch during almost every interaction with my neighbors, I still to this day have no idea how they say it's supposed to work.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:09 PM on February 23, 2010


Cantharis

Offered without comment.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:09 PM on February 23, 2010


I did a quick search for Cantharsis (actually, Cantharis), and it appears to be primarily used homeopathically, Fraxas. However, a surprising number of the sites Google brought up for homeopathic Cantharsis had little "THIS SITE MAY HARM YOUR COMPUTER" warnings next to them, so I haven't investigated further.
posted by Jimbob at 4:10 PM on February 23, 2010


Wait, you mean there were "homeopathic hospitals" funded by the NHS? With, like, actual money and not, say, gold diluted by 100000000? Wow, I totally missed out on a chance to be outraged.

I guess it makes sense -- I mean, Britain is home to Steven Hawkings.
posted by chalkbored at 4:12 PM on February 23, 2010


This is great news!
posted by OmieWise at 4:12 PM on February 23, 2010


Jesus you people really do need the hamburger tag don't you
posted by spicynuts at 4:15 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tully, it's great that you've found a way to cope with your problem via this treatment.

However, what the science says is that if we took 200 people who had your symptoms, divided them into two groups of 100 people, gave one group "plain water" and gave the other group "cantharsis", we'd get the same number of people who got relief in each group. Some people will certainly get relief who take Cantharsis. The problem is, it's the same number of people who take cantharsis.

That you happen to be in the pool of people who are helped by the treatment is not in itself evidence that the treatment is effective.


Human beings are terrible at this- we conflate coincidence and cause all the time. The placebo effect really works on us. I assume it's because our brains are superb at recognizing patterns- even when the pattern doesn't actually exist. You took a "medicine", and you felt better. Therefore, you assume the two are related. They probably are related- by your subjective experience, the placebo effect is now more likely to work for you with this particular treatment.

But any double-blind study done - EVER - shows that homeopathy never works better than placebos. We can't trust our subjective mind on this sort of thing- it tricks us.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:17 PM on February 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


oops, should be "the same as the number of people who drink plain water".
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:19 PM on February 23, 2010


First they came for the homeopaths.

I spoke out. In fact, I diluted my speech to 20c with silence, and they still didn't hear me.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:24 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I once landed a gig, working for a hippy friend, scanning and OCRing homeopathic journals. These things were weird. They were presented, for all purposes, exactly as any scientific journal would be - full of papers submitted by researchers (most of whom seemed to be from the same "institute"), and the papers described lots of fancy lab equipment and detailed methods, but the actual science was from some kind of twilight zone, where the last 200 years of physics, chemistry and biology was unheard of. There were lots of pretty graphs, but no p-values to be seen.
posted by Jimbob at 4:24 PM on February 23, 2010


Way to score a Godwin in the headline.

You know who else supported homeopathy?

From the link: "But the rather nasty conclusion is, and at risk of invoking Godwin's Law, that the Nazi state was rather enraptured with homeopathy. It would be surprising if it was not. German nationalism latched onto all sorts of mystical and distinctly Germanic notions during these terrible decades. The fact that homeopathy was of German origin no doubt had some bearing on its adoption by the various Nazi doctors in attendance to Hitler."
posted by iviken at 4:26 PM on February 23, 2010


Oh no! Does this mean that they're going to close the Homeopathic A&E?
posted by zsazsa at 4:31 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah right. Spanish fly. I've heard of that.

Tullyogallaghan, check the label - does homeopathic cantharis have any Cantharidin molecules in it? I'm curious.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:43 PM on February 23, 2010


BTW,the select committe held an evidence session on this topic to inform their opinion. The video is here. The Guardian liveblogged it, with hamburger commentary here. My favourite passage starts around 1hr32min, when Evan Harris MP (a medical doctor subscribing to an evidence based medicine philosophy) gets the homeopath involved in a discussion about how much you should shake the solution and whether the regulator checks that there's been adequate and adequately vigorous shaking.
posted by Jakey at 5:00 PM on February 23, 2010


Just a reminder that if you make fun of chiropractors your comments go down the memory hole so be good in this discussion boys and girls :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:03 PM on February 23, 2010


While I'd never support homeopathy as being actually effective, I do wonder whether paying for it might in itself be a part of the placebo effect. In other words, if you were just to take plain water but knew that that's what it was, perhaps the placebo effect would not be invoked - maybe you'd need something that you've paid for and is in a medical-looking bottle in order to trick your body into accepting it as being real.

I tend to think similarly about acupuncture - yeah, there's no evidence that it's any more effective than someone carefully and reverentially sticking little pins in random places all over you, but it's never compared to that in real life. Rather, it's compared against nothing at all, and it will show an effect versus that, because the placebo effect won't be present in the "no treatment at all" case.

I'm certainly not suggesting that either of these remedies should be receiving government funding, of course, and people should absolutely be directed towards medicine that's proven to actually work. But if the service that patients of "alternative" practicioners are paying for is actually just having someone sit down with you, listen carefully to your problem, and essentially make you feel cared for, I have a hard time believing that there is no value in that.

(On preview - Jakey, Evan Harris is the only MP I've ever directly voted for. I don't agree with him on everything, but every now and again he makes me very, very glad about that little "x" I drew next to his name.)
posted by ZsigE at 5:05 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Do you know why homeopath have orgasms?

To know when to stop adequately and vigorously shaking.
posted by dirty lies at 5:09 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


chalkbored: “I guess it makes sense -- I mean, Britain is home to Steven Hawkings.

Holy god, that video makes me angry. She's making a certain amount of sense – a little bit, anyway – until she gets to 4'10", when she suddenly concludes that disease is energy. Gah!

I have to go cast a +2 soothing kitteh to take away the GRAR.
posted by koeselitz at 5:10 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read all I needed to know on this page. I tell you, this homeopathic learning kicks ass!
posted by five fresh fish at 5:11 PM on February 23, 2010


ZsigE,

My google-foo is failing, but I remember reading that the more friendly a placebo is, the least effective it is.

A friendly placebo would be a medium sized, good tasting white pill that (you are told) is very cheap, made of common stuff, that you can take anytime, and that is so safe that you can take one or two or three, it does not really matter.

An unfriendly placebo is tiny or too big to swallow comfortably, is dark green, smells and tastes bad, is expensive and made from dangerous substances, and you have to be very careful how you take it; say take one exactly fifteen minutes after breakfast, then if you feel bad again lay down for 7 minutes, take another one and don't drink anything until 5:30, then take 2 more facing West if you feel cold and facing East if you feel warm.

I guess it has to do with how much attention your doctor seems to pay to your illness and how much attention you pay to your condition. Homeopathy is good at this.
posted by dirty lies at 5:16 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


In other alternative medicine news: Simon Singh in court to appeal against ruling over Guardian article: Science writer tries to overturn decision that he libelled British Chiropractic Association, in important case for free speech
posted by homunculus at 5:24 PM on February 23, 2010


One day I was in a health food store when a woman was asking the clerk if she could give her son this homeopathic remedy, or whether it would interact with the medications he was already taking. I stood there transfixed. I wanted to ask this woman if she knew what homeopathy was, and if so, why she was wasting her money on it? Instead, I said "No, homeopathic medicines won't have any negative effects on other medications".
posted by acrasis at 5:26 PM on February 23, 2010


The NHS should agree to pay 0.01% of the fee, and then when the patients ask how the rest will be funded, the NHS people can get all hand-wavey & mumble something about like paying for like.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:45 PM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


acrasis, that reminds me of the woman I saw pitching a fit about how Walgreens only had "generic" Airborne.
posted by brundlefly at 5:53 PM on February 23, 2010


acrasis, that reminds me of the woman I saw pitching a fit about how Walgreens only had "generic" Airborne.

This is actually eminently sensible since placebos that are more expensive and brand name work better.
posted by OmieWise at 6:02 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


PMG, Jakey, that commentary is hilarious. Just in the first page or so we have these two exchanges:
9.38am: Robert Wilson says it's an old business and popular in France.

Phil Willis: "So is prostitution."
And...
9.40am: Wilson says he believes homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect.

Wilson's comment: "If they didn't work beyond the placebo effect, why do people keep buying them?"

Willis: "That wasn't a serious comment was it?!"
I LOLed!
posted by darkstar at 6:03 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Instead, I said "No, homeopathic medicines won't have any negative effects on other medications".

While I'd guess that 9 times out of 10 you're right, you should be aware that "not all homeopaths advocate extremely high dilutions" and "some products with such relatively lower dilutions continue to be sold."
posted by namespan at 6:07 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read just one letter from one word from one senence from one paragraph from one article against homeopathy and it made me an expert.
posted by eccnineten at 6:19 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read all I needed to know on this page. I tell you, this homeopathic learning kicks ass!

Wait, that page isn't finished! There's a dark pixel in the middle! QUICK, more dilution!
posted by drhydro at 6:27 PM on February 23, 2010


This would be funny if people didn't die from it.
posted by tellurian at 6:43 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The NHS should agree to pay 0.01% of the fee, and then when the patients ask how the rest will be funded, the NHS people can get all hand-wavey & mumble something about like paying for like.

My pocket lint has the memory of money, surely that will settle my account?
posted by rodgerd at 6:44 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Last time I tried that line at a bar, they ensured I left with the memory of the inside of a filthy toilet bowl.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:06 PM on February 23, 2010


They could drop a shilling in an enormous bucket of water!

I'm sure I'm missing a reference here, but silver is a fairly strong antibiotic, to the point that they're putting it in some washers to improve freshness of clothes. It seems to work, too. I believe they also use silver in the 'antibacterial' plastic shopping-card handles.

I've read, somewhere, that dropping a silver dollar or two into an outdoor rain barrel will keep it fresh, as long as the entrance to the barrel is covered with a fine mesh to keep mosquitos out, and as long as there's a hard top to prevent crap from blowing in.

So, while I'm sure there's some context here that I'm not understanding, dropping an old-style silver shilling into a bucket of water could be a perfectly intelligent thing to do.
posted by Malor at 11:37 PM on February 23, 2010


"I'm certainly not suggesting that either of these remedies should be receiving government funding, of course, and people should absolutely be directed towards medicine that's proven to actually work. But if the service that patients of "alternative" practicioners are paying for is actually just having someone sit down with you, listen carefully to your problem, and essentially make you feel cared for, I have a hard time believing that there is no value in that."

Word! It's wrong to say that homeopathy does not work, because it does work. Just like placebos work. And as long as homeopaths don't run around and believe they can cure cancer I do not see any problem with homeopathy.
posted by jfricke at 12:42 AM on February 24, 2010


So, while I'm sure there's some context here that I'm not understanding, dropping an old-style silver shilling into a bucket of water could be a perfectly intelligent thing to do.

It's a joke mocking homeopathy.

A popular homeopathic treatment for the flu is a 200C dilution of duck liver, marketed under the name Oscillococcinum. As there are only about 1080 atoms in the entire observable universe, a dilution of one molecule in the observable universe would be about 40C. Oscillococcinum would thus require 10320 more universes to simply have one molecule in the final substance.[68] The high dilutions characteristically used are often considered to be the most controversial and implausible aspect of homeopathy.
via: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy#Dilutions
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:47 AM on February 24, 2010


(that's 10^80 & 10^320, in case it didn't make sense - the powers were lost in transpasting)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:38 AM on February 24, 2010


And as long as homeopaths don't run around and believe they can cure cancer I do not see any problem with homeopathy.
See above — not something as complicated as cancer, just eczema and their own child.
posted by tellurian at 3:14 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The NHS spends about £4 million a year on homeopathy, paying for prescriptions and supporting the running of four homeopathic hospitals.

Suggestion: this year, give each hospital £10, and tell them it will work better ’cause it’s diluted
posted by DreamerFi at 3:50 AM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, good old Evan Harris.

My local MP, and all-round good egg.
posted by psolo at 4:30 AM on February 24, 2010


Yeah - not sure if this is better in AskMe or not but I took the tiniest chip off one of these diamond-shaped blue pills and drank it in a glass of water and now I look like a fucking tripod.

Any advice you can offer?
posted by longbaugh at 5:14 AM on February 24, 2010


I am going to ignore all this nay saying because to do otherwise would lose a valuable placebo and I can't afford to go to the doctor so he can give me a antibiotic to serve the same purpose.

We could make it mandatory to give instructions on when to seek traditional treatment on the bottle of homeopathics at the grocery store. Just as we should make it mandatory for practicing homeopaths to advise their patients to try other therapies when it is warranted and report possible neglect of children.

But on the other hand, I don't think we should legislate what treatments I may choose to take for my illness. If it kills me, then it is my life. Do any of us want some top down order from the government of how you take care of your own body. It is only a short step from there to making treatment mandatory and I feel I have the same right to refuse treatment as I do to choose something that is unproven and potentially useless.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 5:32 AM on February 24, 2010


I don't think we should legislate what treatments I may choose to take for my illness.

No one is saying that. You may continue to choose to drink all the water you want.

But "homeopathic practitioners" and pharmacies should not be allowed to defraud patients into paying them for treatment with no verified efficacy. They should also not be able to demand that the government pay for it.

It is only a short step from there to making treatment mandatory

No, it isn't.
posted by grouse at 6:19 AM on February 24, 2010


bonaldi : This thread won't be any fun until someone comes along with irrefutable anecdata about how it works.

We went over this last time; muddgirl and I came up with a homeopathic hangover cure that is guaranteed effective when used properly.

I have yet to see the riches we were hoping to reap, but I'm just happy to be making sick people better.
posted by quin at 9:41 AM on February 24, 2010


But on the other hand, I don't think we should legislate what treatments I may choose to take for my illness.

Well, it's a resource allocation issue and a science issue. Let's pick something patently absurd, that no one would believe in, like "Magic rocks realign broken energy fields and heal the patient". I know humanity is too clever to believe in that sort of nonsense, but if it did, should James Taxpayer in the UK pay for it?

And should doctors police their own and say "You know what? I've run the numbers, and it's not clear that these magic rocks actually improve patient outcome."

I'm not sure that the UK has enough money around to fund faith-based medicine.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:40 AM on February 24, 2010


But on the other hand, I don't think we should legislate what treatments I may choose to take for my illness. If it kills me, then it is my life. Do any of us want some top down order from the government of how you take care of your own body. It is only a short step from there to making treatment mandatory

No.
posted by OmieWise at 11:53 AM on February 24, 2010


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