Britain’s National Health Service about to ban homeopathy

Reader Barrie called my attention to an article in The Independent  that offers some good news: Britan’s NHS, based on a 48-page document about items that shouldn’t be prescribed in primary care medicine, seems set to stop prescribing Magic Water, otherwise known as homeopathic medicine.

The motivation for the whole document was to eliminate, as a cost-cutting measure, those prescribed items that were of low clinical effectiveness. So there are many drugs listed, but on page 14 you’ll find this:

Actually, given Prince Charles’s fondness for this quackery (he even uses it own his own farm animals), I’m surprised the expenditure by the NHS is less than £100,000 per year, but it sends an important signal to people that the government health agency sees homeopathy as ineffective. Now I’m sure that patients who want Magic Water can still buy it themselves, but at least doctors can’t prescribe it.

Here’s a tw**t from Simon Enright, the Director of Communications for NHS Britain, laying out some of the conclusions and problems with eliminating homeopathy.

I’m not sure where his seven points come from (they’re not in the big document), but one struck me: “As well as primary care prescribing, there are two homeopathic hospitals affiliated to NHS Trusts in Bristol and at University College London Hospitals (UCLH).”

Seriously—government-funded homeopathic hospitals? I have no idea what they are, but perhaps a British reader can describe them. What kind of treatment do they offer? Is there anything besides Magic Water on tap?

46 Comments

  1. Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Equally good news. The prior sections bans herbal treatments.
    “Under a Traditional Herbal Registration there is no requirement to prove scientifically that a product works, the registration is based on longstanding use of the product as a traditional medicine.
    Due to the lack of evidence provided in registering these products the group felt that they were suitable for inclusion in the proposed guidance.”

    • Tom
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Yes, we are slowly ridding ourselves of the NHS of Woo and becoming a truly evidence based NHS.

  2. ariel
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t able to verify this, but could the monetary amounts be in thousands and so, 92,412 is actually 92,412,000 GBP? less than a 100K is a nothing burger (though should be eliminated none the less)

    • Graham Head
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      The tweet mentions £578,000 over five years so hopefully not.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 25, 2017 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      £92k is probably comparable with the cost of producing the entire report. 2 weeks work from each county-level administrator in the country wouldn’t sound wildly unreasonable.

  3. Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Seriously—government-funded homeopathic hospitals? I have no idea what they are, but perhaps a British reader can describe them.

    For an account see: http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2010/03/are-there-any-homeopathic-hospitals-in-the-uk.html

    • sshort
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      There is a Dawkins video where he visits a British homeopathic hospital.

      • Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        The Richard Dawkins video is “The Irrational Health Service” which has been uploaded to Youtube if any readers are interested.

  4. Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    FYI the seven points come from this document:

    https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/05-pb-21-07-2017-lvm.pdf

  5. David Harper
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    It is a matter of deep embarrassment to me, as a UCL alumnus, that my alma mater’s teaching hospital has a Department of Quackery.

    Damn it, UCL was founded to provide a university education in England for people who didn’t follow the state religion. It’s one of the world’s top research universities. It is absurd that the teaching hospital condones quackery.

    • Tom
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes Dr Robert Grant can be heard spinning in his grave.

    • chrism
      Posted July 24, 2017 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      Don’t be embarrassed, the trust acquired it as part of the rag bag of hospitals that once existed in WC1. The Royal National Homeopathic Hospital is on Great Ormond Street, just around the corner from the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queen’s Square, and changed its name in 2010 to the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, as homeopathy is not the only quackery on offer. There used to be so many curious little hospitals there: The National Temperance Hospital (later used for addictions services!), The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital (for women only), The Hospital for Tropical Diseases, The Royal Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, The Eastman Dental Hospital and so on. Largely ‘rationalised’ now.
      I don’t think UCL/UCH had any say in whether the hospital ought to exist, they simply gained management of it as a job lot.
      Embarrassment of a different sort belonged to the Middlesex Hospital, which ran St Peter’s & St Paul’s Hospital for Genito-Urinary Diseases, appropriately enough in Soho (a famous red light district at one time).

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 25, 2017 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      It is a matter of deep embarrassment to me, as a UCL alumnus,

      I saw a report recently (Grauniad dead-tree, IIRC) that the proportion of first Class degrees awarded at UCL has increased from about 12% twenty years ago to around 40% now. That’s probably a more important ground for embarrassment.

  6. Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    In Mexico, we have a “National Homeopathic Hospital”: http://www.hnh.salud.gob.mx/
    I have no idea what they do there, either.

  7. Munevver
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I work at UCLH and I go there for acupuncture on my back after having a spinal injury from work, it is a very good service, hope they don’t shut that service down 😦

    • Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:35 am | Permalink

      Also a placebo only treatment.

      • Martin Knowles
        Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        Not just placebo if the treatment includes hands-on massage, as I think you will find most acupuncturists will include.

  8. Veroxitatis
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I expect a letter in black spidery pen is already winging it’s way to the Secretary of State for Health.

  9. Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Even more new good news!
    They are recommending against the “lutein and antioxidant” combos that ophthalmologists are always trying to push on my patients to prevent macular degeneration.
    ” Advise CCGs that prescribers in primary care should not initiate lutein and antioxidants for any new patient
     Advise CCGs to support prescribers in deprescribing lutein and antioxidants in all patients and, where appropriate, ensure the availability of relevant services to facilitate this change.”
    Good old NHS.

  10. Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I expect this to get quashed again, like it was last time this was recommended. As it is, patients already being prescribed homeopathy will apparently continue to be able to get it.

    If it does in fact wind up getting cut from the NHS, any Brits opponents of Brexit who feel glum about leaving leaving Europe can indulge in a bit of gloating. It is still covered by govt. health care in Germany and France (and I assume many other places in Europe). In Germany homeopathy is legally exempted from normal standards of medical testing. (Their brief period of success under the Nazis was never rolled back. The Nazis in fact conducted the largest study of homeopathy ever undertaken. It was found, unsurprisingly, not to work, but the war broke out before the study was completed and the results were “lost”.)

    Today a lobby group called the “It Works For Me” campaign is lobbying to the exemption from medical standards extended throughout Europe. (When homeopaths tell me that “studies have it works”, I tell them not to talk to me until they have convinced this campaign that their work is unnecessary!)

    • Perluigi Ballabeni
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      Following a national referendum, in 2009 the Swiss federal government included homeopathy, phytotherapy, anthroposophic medicine and Chinese traditional medicine in the catalogue of medicines that have to be reinbursed by the basic health insurance. Lately, the government argued that the people’s will comes before scientific evidence.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        The Swiss are pretty levelheaded. I think they might take note of the UK and adapt to their environment.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 25, 2017 at 7:12 am | Permalink

          Perluigi Ballabeni : Lately, the government argued that the people’s will comes before scientific evidence.

          rickflick : The Swiss are pretty levelheaded.

          Since governments are elected by people, not scientific evaluation, these two assertions are not incompatible.

  11. Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Very good. I’d like to know whether chiropractic is yet covered. And acupuncture.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      The Royal London Hospital for Homeopathic Medicine reincarnated as RLH for Integrated Medicine in 2010. As well as homeopathy, the hospital dispenses acupuncture and herbal medicine. Herbal medicine and homeopathy are now set to get the chop under the NHS – acupuncture not.

      The hospital advertises courses for all three “treatments” to spring 2018. The fact that two of those treatments will no longer be publicly funded must in turn raise questions about the funding of those courses.

      At a time of austerity, in an age of science, it is inappropriate for the NHS to be spending public funds on pseudoscientific faith-based medicines.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    … government-funded homeopathic hospitals? … What kind of treatment do they offer?

    Maybe something like this:

    • Danny Kodicek
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      I had a feeling I might be beaten to this comment 🙂

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      I was hoping someone would post this! 😀

      • Mike
        Posted July 24, 2017 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        +1

    • rickflick
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      I’d say this is one of the most amusing and successful satirical plays I’ve ever seen. I never tire of revisiting it.

      “Is there anything besides Magic Water on tap?”

      Ha. It might as well be taken straight from the tap.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Damn that was funny and apposite. I’d never seen it, so thanks for sharing.

      I have a friend who sees a homeopathic “doctor”. (What are they called? Practitioners?) She was impressed how thorough her physical was; for instance, they examined her saliva for certain enzymes and such. Based on that, she was “prescribed” several vitamin/mineral/herbal supplements to balance whatever her saliva showed was imbalanced. I don’t know why she was impressed by this. Maybe because real doctors choose to examine blood, not saliva…oooh the mysteries of saliva that physicians overlook! Anyway, I told her if something really bad happens to her (like in the above satire, but I was thinking cancer or heart disease): “please see a real doctor”. Surprisingly, she sort of shrugged and made a facial expression like “haven’t decided”.

      People are strange, whether you’re a stranger or not.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 25, 2017 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        I don’t know why she was impressed by this. Maybe because real doctors choose to examine blood, not saliva…oooh the mysteries of saliva that physicians overlook

        Maybe, just maybe, the act of causing a physical wound in drawing blood causes terror and palpitations in homeopathic “practitioners” terrified of malpractice lawsuits over both what they do and what they don’t do.

  13. Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    In South Africa, traditional health practitioners are recognized in law so we have a dual health system of modern and traditional.
    This is where science and culture collide.

    Here is a link to a recent study on allopathy and traditional health practitioner collaboration:

    http://curationis.org.za/index.php/curationis/article/view/1495

  14. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    There’s no homeopathy in the NZ system, but some physiotherapists do acupuncture.

  15. Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Now that the budget has been diluted to zero, it should be vastly more effective.

    • Colin McLachlan
      Posted July 25, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      😀

  16. Steve Pollard
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, I have been doing some volunteer work at my town library, digitising the archives of a long-dead local architect who did a fair number of alterations between 1905 and 1946 for our homeopathic hospital (now not NHS-supported). The floor plans look like you might expect for any pre-NHS hospital, although operating theatres are pretty thin on the ground.

    One of the first facilities this architect designed was a mortuary. Go figure…

  17. Ken Phelps
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Good place to revive Abraham Lincoln’s famous response when asked to approve homeopathic remedies for the Army Dispensary: “The application is dismissed. You cannot fertilize with flatus.”

  18. Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place and commented:
    And about time too!

  19. Posted July 23, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    My grandfather was an MD, trained at Hahnemann hospital in Philadelphia when it was still a homeopathic school. He was a medical officer in WWI in France. When I had learned somethings about homeopathy and real medicine, I asked him why he used penicillin if he had been trained as a homeopath. His reply: “Because it works”.

  20. Posted July 24, 2017 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    You can peruse the mix of ‘complementary medicine’ (ie, shit that doesn’t work or everywhere would offer it after scrutiny by peer-reviewed double-blind trials) and boring old science-based medicine on offer in the (rebranded) hospital in London on its website https://www.uclh.nhs.uk/OurServices/OurHospitals/RLHIM/Pages/Home.aspx Apart from the Prince of Wales’s serial advocacy of woo, we of a ‘prove it or bin it’ disposition in Britain have had to stomach Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary FFS, giving homeopathy and other pseudo-treatments an easy ride for years and his fellow Tory MP David Tredinnick popping up on House of Commons select committees to spout about the benefits of quackery. It is an utter disgrace that taxpayers have to foot any bill for bogus medicine and the salaries of the twats who advocate for it.

  21. Posted July 24, 2017 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Nucella's Blog and commented:
    Not before time!

  22. Bob Barber
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Pop Haydn explains Magnetized Water.

  23. Martin Knowles
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Regarding acupuncture (as a few folks have commented on it here), consider that during a “treatment” there is usually a massage component not to mention the sympathetic concerns of the practitioner. So although we can categorically conclude that acupuncture itself doesn’t cure anything, the support and massage will help you feel better and better able to psychologically cope. I would like to eliminate acupuncture and just go with massage. In the US, massage is not covered by insurance, but acupuncture is. I don’t get why it isn’t the other way around.

    • Simon
      Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      It is my understanding that there have been studies showing a greater than placebo effect for some conditions. If I recall, the accu part is pure woo. The puncturing produces the physiological effect, which is not that surprising.

      • Martin Knowles
        Posted July 24, 2017 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

        That may well be the case but as far as I know there is not yet an acceptable explanation. Clearly, so-called “traditional Chine medicine” theories and concepts are simply not good enough.


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