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Homeopathy, Relativism and Maw Broon’s Cabbage

04/08/2010

UK Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has followed the example of his predecessors and chosen to ignore the advice of the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons, who were urging the government to withdraw NHS funding for homeopathy treatments on the NHS. MPs had published a report, in February this year, showing a mismatch, under the government’s own rules, between the lack research evidence and funding policy.

Such political expediency can draw succour from the extreme relativism of ‘patient choice’, which itself is based-on the notion that the customer knows best. This is an important part of the current government’s drive to empower the patient, but are they right? Does the customer always know best?

Maw Broon* may, indeed, be an expert when it comes to buying cabbages, but is she the right person to be purchasing endoscopy services, or spending public money on unproven remedies?

Of course, Maw and Paw Broon don’t actually get the best deal for their greens because the price/value nexus in their buying decision has also to account for considerations of parking convenience at supermarkets, the advertising-led associations of premier brands and the ambience and service received at the local deli.

In terms of health treatment choices, homeopathy is a case in point. Do we actually want this melange of marketing to determine treatment decisions rather than clinical need?

Politicians love to say that their policy is ‘evidence led’. But evidence will always be trumped by political self-interest because elected members know that there are a large number of enthusiastic supporters of homeopathy.

Surely, at these times of stringency, we should expect some honesty in the economies made. The Minister should withdraw funding until the homeopaths provide solid evidence demonstrating not only that their treatments work better than placebo but also how and why they do so.

When is someone going to apply for a judicial review of this hocus pocus?

* Blissful ignorance of The Broons comic strip may be lifted here http://www.thatsbraw.co.uk

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From → Health, Policy, Research

5 Comments
  1. Since I don’t know the British system: Are you saying that National Health Care pays for homeopathy? I would be against it.

    Here in the U.S.A. people pay for their own homeopathy. Although I am not a fan of that modality, I think that people should have the freedom to believe in what they want.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

    • Hi Alexa,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, they are publicly funded (see http://www.nhs.uk/news/2010/july07/pages/nhs-homeopathy.aspx), something which many people here feel is wrong, too.
      Particularly at a time of public sector cuts, it would make rational sense to fund those things that can be shown to be of clear benefit.
      But, sadly, the equation of evidence with policy all too often has to include political advantage as a factor if it is to balance up.

  2. Those who believe in homeopathy ought to support a massive dilution in its funding as it would increase its potency!

  3. Check this tonight on BBC ‘Magic or Medicine – Homeopathy and the NHS’.
    Also article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-11277990

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