If the NHS discarded evidence-based decision making and instead reverted to dispensing alternatives such as magic as the best possible means to cure those who are ill then you would, I both hope and assume, be quite rightly more than a tad concerned. That has in one sense actually been happening, but things are now getting better.
If you know me by now that you will instantly grasp that I’m back on the topic of Homeopathy. OK, so for those that are not too familiar with it all, let’s lay the foundation here; homeopathy is not a viable herbal cure and is instead something that is truly mind-blowingly absurd.
I’m back on the topic because of the news of a trial that was initiated to force the NHS to fund homeopathy, and before we get into that, let’s first go over the basics (if you are already up to speed, just skip the next two sections).
What exactly is Homeopathy?
The idea is not ancient, but rather was dreamed up in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann who based it all on his belief of like cure s like. The thinking is that a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people will cure similar symptoms in sick people.
Now this is where things get rather weird. Homeopathic remedies are in fact dilutions. At first Hahnemann tried undiluted doses for provings, but he later advocated provings with remedies at a 30C dilution and so it is these very dilute remedies that are in use today.
OK, so what exactly does 30C mean?
The C scale is in fact logarithmic. Take 1 part of the ingredient, add 100 parts of water, and then vigorously shake by 10 hard strikes against an elastic body. This is called “succession”. This is 1C. Now take 1 part of the 1C and add 100 parts of water, do the same and you have 2C. Keep repeating until you get to 30C.
The claim also is that a solution that is more dilute is described as having a higher potency, and so these more dilute substances are considered by homeopaths to be stronger and deeper-acting remedies.
To help you wrap your head around this, a 12C solution is equivalent to a “pinch of salt in both the North and South Atlantic Oceans”. 13C is one drop of that diluted in all the water on the planet.
In other words, by the time you get to 30C what you are given contains no active ingredients at all.
Does it work?
If it actually worked and we simply lacked an understanding as to why then it might indeed still be wholly appropriate, but the bottom line is that it does not work at all and does nothing.
- Homeopathy lacks biological plausibility … and I think you can now understand why.
- The axioms of homeopathy have been refuted for some time.
- The postulated mechanisms of action of homeopathic remedies are scientifically implausible and also not physically possible
- Although some clinical trials produce positive results, systematic reviews reveal that this is because of chance, flawed research methods, and reporting bias. Overall there is no evidence of efficacy, see here, and here.
In summary it is at best a placebo.
What is the Official NHS position on it?
So what is the latest news on it all?
Honor Watt, 73, sued Lothian Health Board at the Court of Session in Edinburgh after the authority stopped providing homeopathic treatments to patients.
The board decided in June 2013 that the money spent on holistic alternatives would be better spent on conventional medicines. A number of medics believe there is no proof that homeopathy, a form of holistic medicine used by more than 200 million people worldwide, can successfully treat conditions.
Mrs Watt suffers from arthritis and received homeopathic medicine for her debilitating condition.
Her lawyers claimed the NHS board acted illegally by deciding to end funding. They claimed the Equality Act 2010 placed an obligation on the health board to ask patients for their views on whether homeopathy should continue to be funded.
The legislation states that health boards have an obligation to consider decisions in the terms of what is called a public sector equality duty (PSED), designed to tackle racial, sex and class discrimination.
She might indeed “believe”, but people demanding stuff that has not been shown to work is not how medicine works. Not only do they have a rather obvious duty of care, but the above claim is utterly absurd because we simply don’t get to vote on what does and does not work, reality is quite oblivious to our wishes.
One other important point is that this is not about a ban on homeopathy, but is instead the NHS making a good decision to not waste public funds on treatments that do not work and instead focus precious resources on treatments that do. If Ms Watt truly does want to continue utilising homeopathy then she can still do so, because homeopathic tables are freely available and cost something in the £4-10 range. What she does not get to do is to force this deception upon others via the public purse. The judge agreed …
Judge Lord Uist ruled that the board acted legally and refused to overturn its decision. In a written judgment, he stated: “It is clear to me from an examination of the relevant documents that the board was from the outset consciously focusing on its PSED.”
[PSED = public sector equality duty is a reference to UK legislation – the Equality Act 2010 says public authorities must comply with the public sector equality duty]
Finally, I do have one last question, how much did it cost Ms Watt to take this to court to try and win the right to get a £4 packet of ineffective content-free pills that do absolutely nothing at all for free?