The NHS in the UK spends huge amounts of public money on “homoeopathic” treatments. This is despite a report published earlier this year by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee which concluded:
That the NHS should cease funding homeopathy.
Having been selected to ask a topical question on Health in the House of Commons on the 29th of June 2010 Cambridge MP Julian Huppert asked:
Does the Secretary of State accept:
- the conclusions of the Science and Technology Committee’s “Evidence Check 2” on Homeopathy
- his minister’s commitment earlier today to evidence based [decision making], and
- the BMA motion passed today about homeopathy.
Given the financial constraints which we all share can he defend spending millions of pounds of NHS money on methods which simply do not work?
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was present, but he delegated answering the question to a junior minister, Anne Milton. In reply she said:
I thank the honourable gentleman for his friend, for his question. And say that he seams to know something no one else seems to know that is exactly how much is spent on homeopathic treatments. They are a decision that should be taken by doctors locally. The effectiveness, the safety and the efficacy of a treatment should be taken into account. The estimate is that 0.001% of the drugs bill is currently spent [on homeopathic remedies] at the present time. We are currently looking at the Science and Technology Committee’s report and we will hope to respond to it before the summer recess.
I am shocked that the junior minister is prepared to stand up and do anything other than announce an immediate stop to the state funding of nonsense remedies. It is also scandalous that she doesn’t know how much the NHS is wasting. Some people have made FOI requests in public via mySociety’s Freedom of Information website – WhatDoTheyKnow.com to look into the costs involved. One request to Bath and North East Somerset Primary Care Trust (PCT) revealed the existence of the “Bristol Homeopathic Hospital”, which has been “treating” thousands of people at a cost to the NHS of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The report from the Science and Technology committee reports that in oral evidence a Health Minister said that “several million” was spent each year by the NHS on homeopathy.
Early Day Motions
On the 21st of June David Tredinnick the MP for Bosworth, a Conservative, put down four Early Day motions in support of homeopathy. Julian Huppert very rapidly responded to amend them pointing out the flaws in the scientific publications cited and the approach being taken by Mr Tredinnick.
- Homeopathy And Chronic Primary Insomnia (Original, Julian Huppert’s Ammended Version)
- Homeopathic Medicines In The Treatment Of Moderate To Severe Depression (Original, Julian Huppert’s Ammended Version)
- Effect Of Homeopathic Remedies On Breast Cancer Cells (Original, Julian Huppert’s Ammended Version)
- BMA Annual Representative Meeting Motions On Homeopathy (Original, Julian Huppert’s Ammended Version)
At the time of writing while up to sixteen MPs have supported Mr Tredinnick’s motions, none have signed up to Julian Huppert’s amendments. James Moffatt has tweeted to suggest this is because Mr Huppert’s amendments have so categorically shown up the flaws in the motions that most MPs will consider them a sufficient response in and of them themselves. Mr Moffatt wrote:
Most MPs see EDM as a bit of joke. @JulianHuppert ‘s additions will make them giggle, but probably think “enough said”
The full text of the articles refereed to in the motions can be found online so the accuracy of what Mr Huppert has said in his amendments can be verified:
Title: Homeopathic Individualized Q-potencies versus Fluoxetine for Moderate to Severe Depression: Double-blind, Randomized Non-inferiority Trial
Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 Aug 17.,
Title: Cytotoxic effects of ultra-diluted remedies on breast cancer cells
Int J Oncol. 2010 Feb;36(2):395-403.
Full Text: http://scepticsbook.com/wp-content/uploads/Cytotoxic-effects-of-homeopathic-remedies-on-breast-cancer-cells-2010.pdf
Title: Chronic primary insomnia: Efficacy of homeopathic simillimum
Homeopathy Volume 99, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 63-68
Full Text: http://www.wellnesshp.com/homeopathyresearch/ehs.pdf
The problems highlighted include small sample sizes, the abstract not reflecting the content of the paper (a flaw in peer review) and a failure to statistically justify the conclusions being drawn. The paper on the Cytotoxic effects of ultra-diluted remedies on breast cancer cells is particularly shocking as the results suggest merely that the solvent being applied to the cells is more toxic to one cell line than another – though without the raw data or a statistical analysis not even that conclusion can be drawn. The control cell line is an immortalized cell line, which means its cell cycle control, like that of a cancer cell, is not functioning normally. Huppert’s amendments also point out that policy decisions ought not be based on individual papers and individual trials but on a wider view of all the evidence.
One side issue highlighted by this is the difficulty and costs involved in accessing scientific publications. Access to one of the above papers is being sold by publisher Elsevier B.V at a price of $31.50 for the article and a further $31.50 for the erratum notice associated with it. Often arrangements for distributing the publications describing the results of scientific research are bizarre.
Support for Tredinnick
Homeopathy supporting MP David Tredinnick has been appointed by the Conservatives to the Health Select Committee.
This worryingly suggests that he isn’t a lone crackpot, but has the support of others in one of the UK Governing parties. His EDMs in this parliament and, in the last, have gained signatures from other MPs.
There is no system run by Parliament for alerting people when their MPs have been selected to ask questions in the House of Commons (or any system to give advanced notice of other things MPs might be selected to do eg. hold adjournment debates). With respect to this topical question Mr Huppert tweeted to let people know he had been selected to ask it, and he invited people to suggest topics which he should raise.
I responded to the call and was one of those who suggested Mr Huppert ought use the opportunity to yet more attention to the public money wasted on homeopathy by the NHS and the worrying stance being taken by other MPs. I tweeted:
Mr Huppert also tweeted on an encounter he had with Mr Tredinnick:
@julianhuppert: Bumped into David Tredinnick in lobby. He said it was illiberal to oppose homeopathy. I said it was about evidence.