“His position remains that the evidence of efficacy and the scientific basis of homeopathy is highly questionable”

‘His position’ in the title would be that of the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.  But, as we know, the scientific illiteracy that prevails in the House of Commons is legendary.  And, regardless of their Chief Scientific Adviser’s position, the UK Government have published their response [pdf file] to the Commons Science and Technology Committee’s Report, Evidence Check on Homeopathy.

Here are the main paragraphs

4. The Department sets out policy guidance and recommendations, and asks that the local NHS implements that policy in the way that is most appropriate for their local communities. Primary Care Trusts are responsible for commissioning high quality services, within allocated resources, to meet local patient needs.

5. Given the geographical, socioeconomic and cultural diversity in England, that involves a whole range of considerations including, but not limited to, efficacy. Given the pressure on the NHS in the current economic climate, we are currently looking, as part of the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention agenda, at what more we could do in terms of providing information that would help support commissioning decisions.

6. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an executive agency of the Department of Health, is responsible for the regulation of medicines (including homeopathic products) and medical devices. The medicines regulatory framework is largely set at a European level. European Union legislation includes specific provisions and definitions concerning the regulation of homeopathic products. The UK, like any other EU Member State, must comply with requirements set out in European Directives.

7. Most importantly perhaps, the relationship between a clinician and a patient is one that is built on trust and understanding. Clinicians are bound by a strong moral code but also by the guidance from the General Medical Council – rather than by instructions from the Department. We believe in patients being able to make informed choices about their treatments, and in a clinician being able to prescribe the treatment they feel most appropriate in particular circumstances, within the regulatory and guidance frameworks by which they are bound.

8. We agree with many of the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations. However, our continued position on the use of homeopathy within the NHS is that the local NHS and clinicians, rather than Whitehall, are best placed to make decisions on what treatment is appropriate for their patients – including complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy – and provide accordingly for those treatments.

9. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser has discussed the Department of Health policy on homeopathy with lead officials, and understands the reasons for the policy decision. However, he still has concerns about how this policy is communicated to the public. There naturally will be an assumption that if the NHS is offering homeopathic treatments then they will be efficacious, whereas the overriding reason for NHS provision is that homeopathy is available to provide patient choice.

10. In order for the public to make informed choices, it is therefore vitally important that the scientific evidence base for homeopathy is clearly explained and available. He will therefore engage further with the Department of Health to ensure communication to the public is addressed. His position remains that the evidence of efficacy and the scientific basis of homeopathy is highly questionable. [added emphasis]

As Martin Robbins points out in the Guardian

The report accepts that there’s no evidence that homeopathy works, but apparently this shouldn’t be a barrier to it being distributed via the NHS because not handing out medicines that don’t work might infringe the freedom of patients to choose things that don’t work. What makes this even more absurd is that they concede that: 

“In order for the public to make informed choices, it is therefore vitally important that the scientific evidence base for homeopathy is clearly explained and available. He [the government’s chief scientific adviser] will therefore engage further with the Department of Health to ensure communication to the public is addressed.”

So the government is planning to launch a public information campaign against homeopathic treatments at the same time as it continues to fund those treatments through the NHS. In this glorious mess of a policy the government has come up with something so brain-meltingly stupid that even the satirical brain of Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It, In the Loop) would struggle to match it.

And as Martin Robbins also goes on to point out, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had declared their positions on the provision of non-evidence-based medicine on the NHS prior to the General Election.

Before the election I put questions on science policy to all the main parties on behalf of the Guardian. The Conservatives told me that it would be “wholly irresponsible to spend public money on treatments that have no evidence to support their claims”. The Liberal Democrats stated that they would actively seek a full review of complementary and alternative therapies and that, “[if] Nice’s advice was that the treatment did not perform better than placebo, then of course it should not be supported by the NHS.”

Both parties made a commitment to evidence-based medicine on the NHS. Both parties have performed screeching U-turns on the subject at the first hurdle, ignoring pledges made in writing only three months ago.

What should they do now? As a near namesake of mine once said, I’d make a suggestion, but they wouldn’t listen. No one ever does. It’s all very depressing.

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  • Cynic

    Lots of scope for a saving there then

  • Cynic

    Can I get Voodoo or Human Sacrifice on the NHS as its a matter of patient choice?

    I also fancy two weeks in a Mexican Spa to detox and some diamonds to keep under my pillow at night as the cosmic energy flow through them will aid restful sleep

  • Greenflag

    ‘Both parties have performed screeching U-turns on the subject at the first hurdle, ignoring pledges made in writing only three months ago.’

    They’re afraid of losing the ‘astrological ‘ vote as well as the homeopath and chiropractic voodoo necromancers in marginal constituencies 😉

    I would’nt get depressed PB . It could be worse /better . at least they did’nt require of the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Catholic Cardinal or the Chief Rabbi that only evidence based ‘religion’ will qualify for public monies expenditure from taxpayers 😉

  • Anon

    The incomparable xkcd on the topic:


  • Rory Carr

    Evidence-based – schmevidence-based. We didn’t need none of that there evidence-based mularkey to let us go a-bombing and a-plundering and a-pillaging in that there Eye-rak. Didn’t do us any harm then, did it?

    There’s jest no profit in this evidence-based howdeedowdy. “It’s for dah boids!” (To mix my colloquialisms further.)

  • Pete Baker

    And, as was noted on Crooked Timber

    Update: As ‘belle le triste” notes in comments:

    “But the principle of homeopathy operates by the so-called “law of similars”: what you’re diluting isn’t what will cure the problem, it’s what would (in non-diluted doses) cause the problem. Thus a homeopathic application of macro-diluted sperm would be being deployed to prevent pregnancy, not to cause it.”

    XKCD is unquestionably guilty of bad homeopathy. Can somebody please revoke his license?

  • Lager has beneficial effects on me and I can prove it of a Friday evening. Can I have it free on the NHS?

  • Certified alcholics and tourists could get liquor permits during Indira Gandhi’s prohibition.

  • On the whole I think whatever works for you so long as you also get medical advice.

    I can think of a lot of things that would make me feel soo much better, and currently none of them are on the NHS…

  • My point exactly, but you said it better, Pip.

  • B O O

    Its the Dandelion wine…

  • Anon

    What’s for pregnancy then? Diluted babies?

  • James MacLochlainn

    Why not just give them a placebo and tell it is homeopathic.

  • wee buns

    Ah yes. The staggering self aggrandizement of the mainstream medics, who have since Galen’s day, based their system of medicine, their ‘science’ and chiefly their pride on explaining what is unexplainable; on the delusional, most fantastic, self-contradictory, hypotheses, conjectures and demonstrations, whose disastrous consequences they are quick to overlook; bitter denunciations of homeopathy are old hat, and furthermore do not change the impotence of their methods; a ‘science’ of empty terminology, sophistry, scholastic, stereotyped dogmas.
    You expect rational policies from them??

    Homeopathy is a practical method, the medicine of experience, which is why there is a demand for it.

    If only this race of system-framers and system-followers, that is the mainstream explaination-mania medical faith; if only they were to redirect their energy to investigations animated by the desire to promote the welfare of humanity. They might begin with work on the infantile state of their knowledge as to the real properties of simple drugs.

    Alas instead the big pharmas will be dictating some of the ‘basis of evidence’ for drug policy, in other words business as usual.

  • I suppose its easy to forget some of the most dangerous drugs in the world are also completely natural and ‘homeopathic’ and have been used for medicinal purposes by those who know how, for centuries.

    Its also easy to forget that any outstanding successes in the formal medical area are relatively recent. It really was not that long ago that doctors not only didnt wash their hands they didnt wash the operating table! and they still insisted they not only knew what they were doing, no body else knew anything..

    Investigate, thats the key. If there is anything remotely serious wrong go to the doctor, but also check the web, find out whats out there and dont be afraid to question.

    I remember going to the doctor when I was in my twenties, I had a rash. He looked at at, I said “what is it?” He said and I quote: “Would you feel any better if I told you?” It was german measles. Knowing didnt make me feel better, but at least I found out what it looks like!

  • wee buns

    A wee clarification:

    1) It is the extravagant self-conceit which has in all ages, wrung from the brains of sophists, (aka mainstream f**kwit bureaucracy) that demands explanation of homeopathy, not suffering patients, NOR is it the growing number of GPs who refer patients to homeopathy after having exhausted allopathic recourse.
    Patients demand results, not necessarily explanations on how results are arrived at.

    2) It is specifically results that the NHS lacks and is under pressure to achieve: lasting, curative results as opposed to palliative/ harmful methods.

    3) So-called medical ‘science’ would be hard pushed, if it were demanded of them, to explain their own practices!
    (The justification for vaccination alone hangs on the most tenuous of scientific threads. With aggressive and desperate measures like chemotherapy, the question of wither the so-called curative ends justify the means, is highly suspect. The over use of antibiotics and the subsequent explosion of resistant bacteria is testimony to the fact that medical ‘science’ has abused its successes etc etc ad nauseam.)

    4) To quote the leaflet ‘Past, present and future medicine’ by ‘The Society of Homeopaths’:
    ‘How do homeopathic remedies work? There is abundant proof that the remedies do work but homeopaths and scientists have yet to discover why exactly they work. The precise answer is likely to be found outside the chemistry lab and in the field of physics, especially electro-magnetism. The process of dilution and succussion apparently imprints the characteristic energy pattern, or blueprint, of the original substance onto the water in which it is diluted. This may be likened to the transmission of television or radio signals, where the original scene/sound is converted into electro-magnetic energy pattern (a signal), which can then be broadcast to your receiver. A homeopathic remedy acts as a signal, which stimulates the body’s self-healing powers, mobilizing the defence systems and working on all aspects, mental, emotional, physical, of health.’

    5) The monopoly which mainstream medicine currently exercises, is no different to what eg Eircom or how any dominant company enjoys to screw people with merciless incompetence, to the last cell of health if needs be, or until an alternative is demanded. The public are consumers of health care, are entitled to ask questions without having the establishment line rammed down their throats.

    6) As is usual for big white chief advisors, assumption abounds: people must be so inherently stoopid as to be incapable to make their own informed decisions (as to what method of treatment they chose.)

    7) Conclusion: His (the government’s chief scientific advisors) position holds about as much in integrity as …er….any internal investigation. Zero, that is.

  • I favour the use of alternative medicine if only because it is an alternative. It is no use the ‘professionals’ insisting they know it all, everyone knows they don’t.

    The human brain is an unknown area and so is the way it effects the body. I think the best thing is to keep an open mind and be prepared to listen and learn. ‘Professionals’ would be well advised to do the same.

  • Reader

    wee buns: Alas instead the big pharmas will be dictating some of the ‘basis of evidence’ for drug policy, in other words business as usual.
    Do you have any objection in principle to double-blind testing of medicines for effectiveness and safety?

  • Reader

    Sorry to butt in, but testing or no, first they will demand they be prescription only…

    Its all about money, and just in case it works, prestige.

  • wee buns


    Sorry to say there is no medical principal involved in double blind testing.
    That is, if medicine is defined by (a) knowledge of disease (b) knowledge of remedies (c) knowledge of their employment.
    If that is our premise, then double blind testing imparts little accurate information as to the drug being tested.

    (1) The drugs in question are complex concoctions (as opposed to single, unmixed medicinal substances) and therefore it is impossible to establish, under the conditions, with true accuracy, the combined influence, as each individual ingredient has not first been fully interrogated in it’s own right.

    (2) The subjects of the tests, be they human or animal, and in various states of health, do not constitute an accurate subject for the assessment of an unknown complex drug. This is because the unknown state of health of human subjects causes, unknown repercussions when combined with various drugs. Likewise the animal kingdom is too dissimilar to guide with any true accuracy drug effects in humans (more specifically humans who are sick with a specific disease.)

    At it’s best, double blind-testing gives a only a very rough idea of what general impact they have (not even on such-an-such a disease), and what (inevitable) side effects arise and how harmful they are \9 very often producing new affections and chronic ailments that are much more troublesome than the original disease/

    Of course the allopathic bar has by now, been set so low, that iatrogenic disease is considered normal, and certainly by the time we are into our 60’s most are on a drug regime,
    the side effects of which necessitate a second or third drug. Yet disease, cancer etc, is rampantly increasing.

    No principles are yet universally recognised, according to which the curative powers of medicines can be certainly ascertained. Homeopathic principles have encompassed this, far ahead of its time.

    My assertion remains that allopathic drug knowledge is in its babbling infancy….. indeed also shooting blindfold.

  • wee buns

    Incase nobody realized, the current Tory drug policy aims to have ‘a basis in science’…… whatever that means…

    David Nutt:
    ”To what extent should drug policy be based on scientific evidence? What evidence, if any, would you require to declassify a drug?

    The Conservatives believe that drugs policy should have “a basis in evidence. We have no desire or intention of ignoring scientific advice.” But, “there may be times when ministers decide to take account of other considerations.”

    As the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation points out, this is fairly indistinguishable from the last government’s stance, and will be a disappointment for those who feel that “other considerations” is political code for “pressure from the Daily Mail”.

    It’s hard not to feel depressed that after decades of failed policies on drugs, the two biggest parties in British politics still seem more interested in knee-jerk populist gestures than in creating a policy based on the best available evidence to tackle the problems. Drugs policy is a failure of politics and a failure of the media, with elements of the right-wing press determined to shut down sensible debate or discussion. Whoever wins, drugs policy will continue to be a key science battleground after the election.”

    Prozac is the exploitation of the people etc