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NHS homoeopathy funding probe pledge to MPs

The Government's chief scientific adviser has said he sees "no scientific evidence" that homoeopathy works, and has agreed to look into its funding as a treatment on the National Health Service.

John Beddington, who also heads the Government Office for Science (GO-Science), made the commitment to MPs during a hearing of the Commons Universities Select Committee last week.

The MPs said that continued NHS funding of homoeopathy called into doubt the Government's commitment to "evidence-based" policy, as it had not been raised as a concern during a recent review of the Department of Heath (DoH) by Professor Beddington's office.

Professor Beddington said he had not personally looked at the issue, but added: "I see no scientific evidence that (homoeopathy) works."

He agreed to look at the policy and come back to the committee.

Committee chairman Phil Willis said it was an "important issue" that went right to the heart of how government used science to inform its policymaking.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Evan Harris told Times Higher Education that he was "disappointed" that the issue had not been raised in the health review. "It suggests that either (John Beddington) is not that interested in evidence-based healthcare - which I think he should be - or GO-Science is not that keen to criticise government departments publicly."

The report from GO-Science concluded that the DoH "demonstrates good practice" in the way it commissions, manages and uses science and that other government departments could usefully copy it.

• Acupuncture has received a boost to its scientific credibility from the BMJ Group. The publishers of BMJ announced this week that it would publish a medical journal on acupuncture from next year. Acupuncture in Medicine will be the group's first complementary medicine title, formerly published by the British Medical Acupuncture Society.

Readers' comments (26)

  • It is always so disappointing when a high level government officer show such lack of knowledge in an arena that requires his time to understand.

    there is an entire body of research that indicates the efficacy of homeopathy. professor beddington needs to use his alleged scholarly skills and do his research properly. otherwise, he needs to refrain from lobbying a position of which is knows little, if anything. when such faulty commentary is made, it always raises the question of biased politics at play. i would hope that the mp's hold open hearings to receive information that portrays homeopathy in its true science.

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  • As A GP since 1961 and a Homeopath since 1990 I know that homeopathy is a most valuable tool and 9 times out of 10 my treatment of choice. One only has to see its dramatic effect in treatment of fevers, depression anxiety, pain, to become a convert.
    IT does work!

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  • It would be good if John Beddington researched the effects of Homeopathy himself first, before repeating nonsense from other people.
    There is plenty of research showing homeopathy works, Sometimes it just depends on who's funded the research, ie. if a Pharmaceutical company has funded the research, it is more than likely their results will not come out supporting Homeopathy! After all it's not profit making for them! It doesn't take a scientific mind to work that out now, does it?

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  • Lets examine the 'evidence base' used by the government, via the NHS.

    The vast bulk of NHS funding is spent on conventional medical drugs - whose 'evidence base' regularly informs us of their safety and effectiveness. The result, after 60 years of ConMed treatment, is
    1. chronic disease levels at epidemic proportion, and increasing,
    2. and these same wonder' drugs being withdrawn or banned when they have been found to have disease-inducing effects (DIEs), usually only when thousands of patients have suffered from them.

    The 'evidence base' for homeopathy is actually very strong, although supporters of ConMed will merely state that it is not - just as this article does. Moreover, millions of people, over 200 years, can vouch for the safety and effectiveness of homeopathy. And no homeopathic remedy has ever been withdrawn or banned because in was dangerous.

    So what 'evidence base' do people want. The evidence of medical 'science' that regularly tell us about new miracle cures, but with a track record of massive iatrogenic disease? Or the evidence of patients, who have through the years been able to say - "I was ill - I tried homeopathy - I got better". And also, "I did it safely".

    Steve Scrutton
    Director, Alliance of Registered Homeopaths

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  • Homoeopathy works there has been a lot of pts who has benefited from treament for skin, for heyfever which am one of them. thousands of them, the living proof is me and JULIE GRAHAM she is an ACTRESS and many more millions of pts. The NHS just needs to add Homoeopathy to their list of treatments. This is just to mention but a few.

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  • I see I was a bit slow off the mark. Already four predictable people had jumped in to defend their livelihoods.

    I hope readers of this paper will be aware that there is no branch of alternative medicine that has been shown more clearly to be barmy than homeopaths' sugar pills. Your correspondents may be sincere or they may just be protecting their income. But whatever their motives they are misrepresenting the evidence in a way that would get you fired from any scientific job instantly.

    Sometimes | have to pinch myself to make sure that I'm not dreaming that we are still talking about whether 10 to the power minus 60 dilutions can have a therapeutic effect, I repeat, though, that the real villains of the piece are not the rather sadly deluded homeopaths on the High Street, but the vice-chancellors and Department of Health officials who continue to give credibility to a long dead argument.

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  • It is good to hear the MPs will look into the evidence for homoeopathy. It always amazes me that a modern health service can fund such nonsense.

    If homoeopathy had not been invented two hundred years ago, but instead was invented today, would the health service listen to someone who said,

    Inventor - "I have a great new therapy that can cure all illnesses!"
    NHS - "Is it just those little pills? What is in them?
    Inventor - "Nothing! That is the trick to make sure there are no side effects"
    NHS - "But do they have any effects? How do they work?
    Inventor - "I don't know. I just take any old substance. Dream up what it will cure, and then dilute and shake repeatedly for hours until I am sure there is nothing but plain water left. Then I sprinkle the water on the pills"
    NHS - "Uhh?"
    Inventor - "Yes! I have hundreds of testimonials that it works. Mostly from people with self-limiting conditions - oh and my dog. It works on animals!
    NHS - "Please leave the building before we call security"

    But somehow we find ourselves funding the successors to this inventor with public money.

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  • I find the readers' comments listed above rather depressing. Scientific research DOES NOT show any efficacy for homeopathy. I am quite sure that many people who take homeopathic remedies DO feel better but this is likely due to the placebo effect (which is in fact a remarkably effective treatment!) and the fact that many illnesses are self-limiting and therefore people will just get better. When properly designed placebo controlled trials have been carried out no positive effect has been shown. In other words, individuals given homeopathic treatments did no better than those taking a “dummy” pill (usually a sugar pill).

    The danger with homeopathic treatments is not that anyone will fall ill from taking them - since they basically only contain water or sugar that is highly unlikely. They are dangerous because people may take them for serious illness instead of a proven treatment and may die or suffer as a result. A second danger, in my opinion, is that the strident and highly vocal pro-homeopathy lobbyists continue to publicise factually incorrect claims (as seen in some of the above comments) and these erode people's trust in genuine evidence-based medicine which in fact has had a massive beneficial effect on mankind. To deride any person who disagrees with them as being supported by “big pharma” is laughable- I wish! Ironically, I would suggest that many pro-homeopathy advocates (who are often either practise homeopathy or sell the products) have much bigger vested interests than I do. I am simply a scientist who is frustrated by the lack of knowledge and understanding of science which these people tout.

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  • There are two approaches to the evidence base for homoepathy. One is to assume a-priori that homeopathy cannot work and therefore that it doesn't and to examine the evidence for confirmation of this view. This method has been well to the fore over the last 3 years. Professor Colquhoun has been one of the main participants in the endless repetition of the message that there is "no evidence that homeopathy works". Indeed his posts here demonstrate beautifully his a-priori basis for his viewpoint.

    The other is to look at the evidence dispassionately and in a clinically relevant context. This approach was much prevalent up to 3 years ago, and tended to conclude either that the jury was out, or that maybe there was an unexplained effect over and above placebo. The NHS Centre for Dissemination and Reviews examined the same question Prof Beddington has been asked and concluded that "no change" should be made in NHS provision of homoepathy for this very reason. (NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination Effective Health Care 7:3 2002).

    The difference between these two epochs? The publication of a flawed metanalysis which breached the basic tenets of transparency in science, misleadingly presented as unique and definitive, and since endless referred to as the final word on homoepathy. (Shang A, Huwiler-Müntener K, Nartey L, et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 2005; 366: 726-32). Lovers of scientific truth should be wary of placing too much emphasis on this paper for reasons recently published. (Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials. J Clin Epidemiol, Oct 2008)

    Professor Beddington has either simply taken his insistent anti-homeopathic colleagues at face value or is subject to the same a-priori selective-evidence-blindness. Let us hope it is the former and that when he actually looks into the evidence he will do so objectively.

    Doctors using homeopathy and their patients in the NHS have little to fear from a reivew that examines the evidence objectively and then puts that analysis in a clinically meaningful context.

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  • I actually feel sorry that you believe that any homeopath would NOT have the decency to refer anyone who required serious Medical attention to the appropriate person. No homeopath would 'kill' anyone with homeopathic medicine - which cannot be said to be true of conventional medicine of today. People should have the choice of treatment and not be afraid to be different and ask for alternative treatment. Do you think everyone who has benefitted from homeopathy is a liar?

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