Sunday, 21 February 2010

Science and Technology Evidence Check

The UK government has recently had their Science and Technology Committee look at evidence for homeopathy. There have been concerns that some of the people on the committee were known critics of homeopathy, or had strong connections with groups who were, and so a fair and balanced report is unlikely to be the outcome.

The Liberal Democrat Science spokesman, Dr Evan Harris is a known supporter of Sense About Science, an organisation which is publicly extremely critical of homeopathy. Dr Harris was recently filmed making a speech at an anti-homeopathy 'mass overdose' stunt. He made derogatory comments about Dr Peter Fisher who is director of the London Homeopathic Hospital, and also incidentally, homeopath to the Queen. Hardly an impartial and unbiased act for an MP on a committee listening to evidence on the subject. Dr Harris by criticising a fellow doctor is clearly in breach of Articles 46 and 47 of the General Medical Council’s Guidelines for Good Medical Practice.

Article 46. You must treat your colleagues fairly and with respect. You must not bully or harass them, or unfairly discriminate against them by allowing your personal views to affect adversely your professional relationship with them. You should challenge colleagues if their behaviour does not comply with this guidance.

Article 47. You must not make malicious and unfounded criticisms of colleagues that may undermine patients' trust in the care or treatment they receive, or in the judgement of those treating them.

Voice of (not so young) homeopathy blog for the video of Dr Harris addressing the crowd at the 'mass overdose'

The choice of people who gave oral evidence to the committee seems a bit odd. Dr Peter Fisher is the only doctor using homeopathy who was questioned. Dr David Reilly from the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital is regarded as a leading expert on this subject and should have been called. The Society of Homeopaths, the principal organisation representing non-medical homeopaths did not have the opportunity to speak. At least three people chosen to speak have affiliations or sympathies with Sense About Science, an organisation which has no advisors who are experts in the field of homeopathy.

Government policy should be informed by the performance of homeopathy in the real world with real patients, and it is seen to perform there extremely well - providing cost effective and successful treatment to tens of thousands of patients who have not been helped by conventional medicine. An audit by the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital looking at over 6500 patients and 23,000 appointments over a 6 year period showed 70% of patients reported their health improved after treatment. The reports from the homeopathic hospitals were never discussed as part of the Evidence Check.

The NHS budget for homeopathy comprises just 0.004% of the total NHS budget and the annual bill for homeopathic medicines is just £157,000. Compare this with the NHS drugs bill for pharmaceutical products of £11 billion. Incidentally, the NHS expects to pay out over £4.4 billion in compensation and negligence claims this year.

Observational study Bristol Homeopathic Hospital. Over 23,000 patient attendances in a 6-year period, 70% of patients reported improved health, 50% major improvement of wide range of conditions.

Spence DS, Thompson EA, Barron SJ (2005). Homeopathic treatment for chronic disease: a 6-year university-hospital outpatient observational study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11:793-798.