The Debate on Homeopathy Resumes..

Face-off: should the NHS fund homeopathic treatments?

Posted at 6:15 pm, May 6, 2012 in Arts & Entertainment
Face off: Homoeopathy on the NHSProfessor Edzard Ernst, who founded the School of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, has said recently that homeopathy is ‘biologically implausible’ and should not be offered on the NHS. We ask: Should the NHS fund homeopathic treatments?
Yes- Dr Sara Eames, president of the Faculty of Homeopathy, Luton
‘Homeopathy is a safe and cost- effective form of medicine which is used by fully trained doctors to treat approximately 200,000 patients a year in general practice and 40,000 in hospital. The hospital patients are all referred by their GPs or hospital consultant, often because they have not been helped by conventional medicine, have had intolerable side-effects or the orthodox treatment is not suitable for the individual patient. ‘There is growing evidence for homeopathy, with over 150 double- blind trials, far more of which are positive than negative. These trials are a “gold standard” in medicine and are specifically designed to cancel out the placebo effect. Outcome studies from the homeopathic hospitals show a high percentage of patients improving their main condition and overall wellbeing. Homeopathy can be safely combined with other treatments, and has massive potential to reduce NHS costs: the total expenditure on NHS homeopathy is less than a thousandth of 1 per cent of the NHS budget. So let’s stop this polarised argument, and discuss the responsible integration of different treatments to save money and help more patients.
No, Professor Edzard Ernst, Peninsula College of Medicine, Exeter
‘Homeopathy was invented in the pre-scientific area, 200 years ago. Perhaps this explains why its assumptions fly in the face of science: its first principle holds that “Like cures like”. In simple terms, this means that I can cure the runny eyes of a hayfever patient with a preparation from onions, because onions make our eyes water. The second principle holds that endless dilution renders a remedy not less but more effective. Ingredients in a typical remedy are 30 times diluted. For it to contain a single active molecule, a pill would have to have a diameter roughly equal to the distance between the Earth and the Sun.  ‘But the acid test for any therapy is whether it works for patients. Today, we have about 200 clinical trials of homeopathy. With such a number, it is not surprising that some are positive by pure chance. Yet the totality of this evidence is clearly negative and the most reliable of these studies fail to show that homeopathic remedies are more than placebos. If a treatment is clearly disproven, we should not have it on the NHS. If we waste our NHS funds on useless treatments, they will not be available for life-saving interventions. It should not come from taxpayers’ money.’
What do you think?
Heidi Stevenson ·  Top commenter · Producer, Gaia Health at Self
Ernst says that homeopathy was invented in the prescientific era. What utter nonsense! To agree with Ernst, one would have to accept the idea that Galileo was unscientific. Ernst uses nice-sounding prose to support his argument, but there's no there there.
  • Vaikunthanath Kaviraj ·  ·  Top commenter · Director atSimilicure
    If homoeopathy is from the pre-scientific era, then vaccination - discovered by Jenner in the same year that Hahnemann wrote his first article on homoeopathy - is equally from the pre-scientific era.

    So what Ernst really says is that vaccination is also not scientific. Yet the Neanderthal knuckledraggers commenting here do know their medical history as little as "professor" Edzard Ernst.

    They always shoot themselves in the foot or suffer from foot in mouth disease and have therefore no legs to stand upon.
    Vaikunthanath Kaviraj ·  ·  Top commenter · Director atSimilicure
    Maria Macl You need to do something about your critical thinking skills. In my first post I called you out to give evidence of efficacy of pharmaceutical drugs, for which you have none but side effects worse than the disease and death. We have 70% efficvacy and you have absolutely nothing but useless denial. Get a life!
    Brian Kaplan · Works at Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine
    Of course homeopathy should be available on the NHS because there is a sizeable minority of people in the UK whose subjective experience is that they have derived a great deal of benefit from homeopathic treatment by medical doctors on the NHS. Subjective experience is important in politics as well as medicine because people vote according to their subjective opinion and the subjective experience of homeopathic treatment is very positive for about 9 million people in this country. This is why democracy has so far stood firm against the authoritarian, condescending and patronising politics of people like Ernst with both Labour and Alliance governments utterly rejecting all the views he expresses above.

    The view of Ernst is disingenuous because he only wants to eliminate homeopathy on the NHS - not a host of orthodox interventions (eg SSRI anti-depressants) that lack the level of evidence he demands for homeopathy. And homeopathy has BY NO MEANS been 'clearly disproven'. Why anyone listens to this man's views is quite beyond me. He epitomises the 'I know better than you what's good for you!' brigade of a certain type of authoritarian politician that flies in the face of a quintessentially British value. Tolerance. Even people who don't believe in using homeopathy for themselves should stand up for liberty, tolerance and democracy in this country and kick the views of people like Edzard Ernst firmly into touch.
    Vaikunthanath Kaviraj ·  ·  Top commenter · Director at Similicure
    Let's take a look at pharmaceutical evidence. It is not even anecdotal. 8% declares the placebo - that is less than plausible for evidence. 11% proves to have "some effect" on the disease it was given for, apart from producing side effects worse than the disease. 5% effectiveness is required to obtain a license to sell it.

    Yet the naysayers over look the Bristol Report, which gives 70% of efficacy for homoeopathy, because 70% of the patients experience considerable improvement. Homoeopathy is moreover without any side effects.

    The Swiss report just released shows that homoeopathy is already homoeopathic in cost, so funding needs not to be slashed. Instead homoeopathy should replace the less than anecdotal pharmaceutical crap for which no evidence other than more disease and death can be reported.

    The naysayers should get a life and halt their tyranny of scientism, because it is soo 13th century! Monkish work by lousy bookkeepers manipulating statistics to suit their own undemocratic ends is not presenting evidence, because pharmaceutical drugs do not have any.
    M.r. Sandvoss · Works at God
    pharmaceuticals generally just suppress the language of the body, the symptoms. so the disease gets pushed into the deep. a dermatitis will result in an asthma.- where is the sense in that approach?
    Alan Schmukler · Editor in Chief at
    All of the 500 million people (WHO) who have used homeopathy, know that it works. As psychologist Jean Piaget said, we learn with our bodies. A skeptic is someone who has never taken a correct remedy. The trend in science is with viewing reality as an interactive energy matrix. To resist the new awareness is like pushing against the wind.
    • Maria Macl ·  Top commenter · London, United Kingdom
      Did you perhaps mean to say that "all of the 500 million people (WHO) who have used homeopathy, know that it works, except for the ones who quickly realise it's a total crock and the ones like Penelope Dingle and Gloria Thomas, who died because of it"?

      No, a skeptic is simply someone who doesn't get taken in by unproven, implausible nonsense unless there is robust and objective evidence in its favour.
    • Vaikunthanath Kaviraj ·  ·  Top commenter · Director atSimilicure
      Maria Macl Oh, can you prove that these people died of homoeopathy, which you first claimed had no effect at all? You need to not just do something about your critical thinking, but about thinking full stop. You want to have your cake and eat it too.

      Now let us look at pharmaceutical drugs, like Vioxx, which killed 1000s before it was taken off the market and the Pfizer had to pay a 4 billion dollar fine for racketeering.

      You have your head in a place where the sun don't shine, gal.
    • Jonathan 'Groucho' Lawrence · Culham College
      Maria Macl You name two people who you allege died from homeopathy, this is laughable. Perhaps you would like to consider the millions that are harmed and killed by pharmaceutical drugs each year. This is one of the major causes of death and disability in the western world. This statistic is from official figures and readily available on the web to check.
      Rochelle Marsden · Works at Southport Homeopathic Practice
      Homeopathy works. You can't tell animals and babies that it is a placebo effect and it works on them!
      • Heidi Stevenson ·  Top commenter · Producer, Gaia Health at Self
        It never ceases to amaze me how these cures are so readily ignored by the deniers. No cat knows it's been dosed. Babies with colic don't get better by believing the pills or drops would help. But they do.
      • Paul Lawrence Hayes ·  Top commenter
        You can't tell animals and babies that and expect them to understand, no. It's tempting to believe that it's for very similar reasons that you can't tell a homeopath about their tired old “animals and babies fallacy”: and expect them to stop coming out with it again. ;-)
      • Vaikunthanath Kaviraj ·  ·  Top commenter · Director atSimilicure
        Paul Lawrence Hayes Your tired old "it does not work" is belied by 25 years of effect on plants. Now waddayasay, smartypants? So keep your silly ballyhoo where it belongs - in the annals of history.