The random thoughts of a sceptical activist

Government

Stop this unscientific meddling

The exposé  by Prof David Colquhoun of the interference by the Department of Health — at the behest of homeopathy promoters — in the publication of impartial, scientifically-based information about homeopathy on the NHS Choices website has been covered by the Guardian and the Daily Mail this past week.

Damned by their own words, the DoH said in response to the draft submitted by the editors of NHS Choices that mentioned the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s comprehensive Evidence Check report on homeopathy:

Can we remove this statement? This report is really quite contentious and we may well be subject to quite a lot of challenge from the Homeopathic community if published.

The statement was removed. What NHS Choices were eventually told to publish was a biased sop to homeopathy, including a list of the main homeopathy trade bodies and a list of medical conditions homeopathy could, apparently, treat.

Andy Lewis, on his excellent website, The Quackometer, asked that we contact our MP over this to demand NHS Choices be allowed to replace this biased page with one that properly reflects the scientific consensus on homeopathy so that the public can make properly informed choices in their health care.

Below is our email to our MP. We urge all those concerned about the public being given unbiased information to write to your own MP — please feel free to use whatever you feel useful.

We are concerned to read that the Department of Health has been interfering with the content of the NHS Choices website to the detriment of the public’s ability to make informed choices about health care.

It was reported in the Guardian on 13 February (Prince’s charity lobbied government to water down homeopathy criticism) and in the Daily Mail on 15 February (Homeopathy charity run by Charles ‘cowed civil servants’ into supporting the therapy) that the NHS Choices website editor had been prevented from stating the lack of scientific evidence for homeopathy for fear of lobbying from the ‘homeopathy community’. This debacle came to light after a Freedom of Information request by Professor David Colquhoun.

As a result of this interference, the page on homeopathy as it stands now is in danger of misleading the public into thinking that homeopathy may be able to treat potentially serious medical conditions such as asthma, ear infections, high blood pressure and depression when there is no scientific evidence to suggest this is the case.

In his response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s Evidence Check report on homeopathy (which recommended removal of all NHS funding for homeopathy because of the complete lack of scientific evidence), the Secretary of State for Health stated:

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.

He also stated:

14. The Government agrees that, when looking at the evidence base for efficacy, it is important to focus on the most scientifically robust studies and evidence.

It is therefore incomprehensible and deplorable that the Department of Health believes it now acceptable to tell the public that homeopathy can be used to treat the following:

  • asthma
  • depression
  • ear infections
  • hay fever
  • other mental health conditions, such as stress and anxiety
  • allergies, such as food allergies
  • dermatitis (an allergic skin condition)
  • arthritis
  • high blood pressure

For such a highly respected, informative and authoritative source of sound medical information such as NHS Choices to have been forced by the DoH into publishing such erroneous information on homeopathy is disgraceful and unacceptable.

This can only lead to the public being mislead and potentially making ill-advised and dangerous health care decisions.

As we are sure you are aware, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has recently made clear that homeopathy is ‘rubbish’. The DoH needs to heed this advice and allow NHS Choices to completely re-write the page on sound scientific and evidence-based principles.

We also note that Anna Soubry recently stated to the House:

The Department [of Health] does not maintain a position on any particular complementary or alternative medicine treatments including homeopathy.

We therefore ask you to request that the Secretary of State for Health explain these actions and that he allow NHS Choices the freedom to ensure that the public can make the informed choice that are entitled to make based on sound scientific evidence and principles and not to have that distorted by vested interests.

We look forward to receiving your reply.

Thanks and best regards.

I’ll let you know what response we get.

A right Royal chiro cock-up

Jubilation in the chiropractic world! But, as usual, all is not what it might first seem…

Chiropractors granted Royal Charter:

The College of Chiropractors will soon be given the honour of being named the Royal College of Chiropractors. In doing so, Chiropractors become the first complementary health specialty to be awarded a Royal Charter. It is great news for Chiropractors and the development of the chiropractic profession in general.

Royal Charters have traditionally been awarded to specialty areas of Medicine such as the Royal College of Surgeons or Royal College of Dentists. It recognises the value of the College of Chiropractors unique position as a leader in the profession. (Source)

College of Chiropractors receives Royal Charter. Feels great to now be part of The Royal College of Chiropractors (Source)

The College of Chiropractors have been granted Royal Charter. Congratulations to the Royal College of Chiropractors! (Source)

The College of Chiropractors will soon be given the honour of being named the Royal College of Chiropractors. (Source)

One chiro was quick to update their website (or maybe he always thought it was a Royal College?) with this new imprimatur:

 I am registered with the General Chiropractic Council…and a member of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) and the Royal College of Chiropractors. (Source)

The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) published a press release (cached) that probably started this all off:

College of Chiropractors granted Royal Charter

Dated: 12 November 2012

At a meeting of the Privy Council on Wednesday, the Queen approved the grant of a Royal Charter to the College of Chiropractors, the first Royal Charter to be granted to a complementary medicine organisation in the UK.

The College is an academic, professional membership body, established along the lines of the Medical Royal Colleges, which over the past 13 years has sought to ensure quality, safety and excellence are at the forefront of chiropractic practice in the public interest.

Chiropractic is regulated by statute and although chiropractors provide their services largely within the private sector, NHS funding for chiropractic treatment is now emerging region by region under the Department of Health’s new commissioning arrangements. Chiropractors specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of problems affecting the joints, muscles and nerves and are probably best known for treating low back pain, a condition which costs the equivalent of between 1% and 2% of the UK GDP and has a significant impact on people’s lives.

Rarely granted, a Royal Charter signals permanence and stability and, in the College of Chiropractors’ case, a clear indication to others of the leadership value and innovative approach the College brings to the development of the chiropractic profession. The Royal Charter essentially formalises the College’s position as a unique, apolitical, consultative body, recognising its role in promoting high practice standards and certifying quality and thus securing public confidence.

Tim Jay, President of the College, said, “The College of Chiropractors’ Royal Charter emphasises to the public and other health bodies that chiropractic is a healthcare profession with parity in the field of musculoskeletal health, providing a viable and recognised option for patients.”

All the usual spin, of course.

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Fog on the Tyne

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) is an important tool for everyone, not just skeptics. It gives the right to anyone to ask for any information held by public authorities who are obliged to supply that information unless it is covered by a limited number of exemptions.

The House of Commons Justice Committee said earlier this year:

The Freedom of Information Act has been a significant enhancement of our democracy.

Indeed it is, but it is under threat and a campaign was started earlier this year to protect it. The threats to it are concisely summarised in an e-petition to the Government (unfortunately now closed):

Leave FOI Alone (#saveFOI)

Responsible department: Ministry of Justice

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) has exposed the scandal of MPs’ expenses, and many examples of waste and improper behaviour by public authorities, politicians and public officials. We call on the government not to allow it to be watered down, nor for there to be a charge for making requests for information.

The public authorities covered by the FOIA are listed in Schedule 1 to the Act and include the bodies you would expect and maybe a few you’ve never heard of.

But Trading Standards (TS) is one such public authority covered by the FOIA.

Each Local Authority in the country has a Trading Standards service and they are the guardians of an impressive list [Link disabled because of possible malware on that website] of regulations, orders and rules including the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and, of course, the Cancer Act 1939.

I have never requested any information under the FOIA about Trading Standards, but it’s easy to see that some information could be very useful in finding out, say, information on complaints and understanding how they work and deal with complaints.

A very useful tool for all Local Authority residents and others.

But maybe not in North Tyneside.

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The bitter sugar pill

In his Guardian article, Homeopaths offer to rebrand products as ‘confectionery’, Martin Robbins tells the story that, faced with being unable to sell their products as homeopathic medicines because they were unlicensed, a manufacturer offered to re-brand them as sweets. The irony of that won’t be lost on many, but what else has been going on?

…sceptics [are] posing as genuine members of the public…

Thanks to his FOIA request, we now know that the medicines regulator, the MHRA, told homeopathy manufacturers Helios and Ainsworths to discontinue the sale and supply of a number of their kits of homeopathic products because they contained homeopathic products that were not registered (under the HR scheme) or authorised (under the NR scheme) and because the names of the kits were not as had been registered with the MHRA.

McCarthy-style reporting, encouraged by the self-appointed detractors of homoeopathy…has protracted this decline [in the homeopathy industry]

These two issues are important: under the Medicines Regulations, individual homeopathic products have to be registered or authorised by the MHRA, and so do kits of these products, with the name of the kits agreed with the MHRA.

Helios and Ainsworths fell foul of the Medicines Regulations on both counts.

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That ‘neutral’ Swiss homeopathy report

What does the Swiss Government really think about homeopathy?

By Sven Rudloff and Zeno

Jump to Postscript

A lot has been made by homeopaths about the ‘neutral’ Swiss Government’s report and its unequivocal support of homeopathy. It’s been lauded by the luminaries of the homeopathic world as further proof — as if any was needed, of course — that homeopathic ‘medicines’ are superior in every way to those dangerous and expensive pharmaceutical drugs.

Arch proponent of homeopathy, Dana Ullman, proclaimed:

The Swiss government’s exceedingly positive report on homeopathic medicine

The Swiss government has a long and widely-respected history of neutrality, and therefore, reports from this government on controversial subjects need to be taken more seriously than other reports from countries that are more strongly influenced by present economic and political constituencies.

In late 2011, the Swiss government’s report on homeopathic medicine represents the most comprehensive evaluation of homeopathic medicine ever written by a government and was just published in book form in English (Bornhoft and Matthiessen, 2011). This breakthrough report affirmed that homeopathic treatment is both effective and cost-effective and that homeopathic treatment should be reimbursed by Switzerland’s national health insurance program.

The provisional reimbursement for these alternative treatments ended in 2005, but as a result of this new study, the Swiss government’s health insurance program once again began to reimburse for homeopathy and select alternative treatments. (Source, cached)

Ullman again:

this report from the Swiss government has confirmed the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of homeopathic treatment. (Source, cached)

The Society of Homeopaths:

Swiss scientists endorse homeopathy evidence

Report says homeopathic medicine is clinically effective

A comprehensive and authoritative research study by Swiss scientists has offered an unambiguous endorsement of the evidence base for homeopathy as a clinically effective system of medicine.

Their report, part of a Swiss government evaluation of complementary and alternative medicines, gives a massive boost to the growing body of research underpinning the therapeutic effects of homeopathic medicine. (Source, cached)

The Faculty of Homeopathy and the British Homeopathic Association:

Evidence for homeopathy builds

Long-awaited English translation of Swiss study endorses evidence for homeopathy

This important report addresses the evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathic therapy in everyday use (i.e. the real world), its safety and its cost-effectiveness.

The authors, Doctor Gudrun Bornhöft and Professor Peter Matthiessen, state: “There is sufficient evidence for the preclinical effectiveness and the clinical efficacy of homeopathy and for its safety and economy compared with conventional treatment.”

Following on from the initial publication of this report, a public referendum in Switzerland in 2009 supported the inclusion of homeopathy and other complementary and alternative medicines in the Swiss national health insurance, with 67% of the people voting in favour. Earlier this month, the Swiss government passed legislation to enact the referendum’s conclusion. (Source, cached and source, cached)

GP and homeopath Dr Andrew Sikorski:

In 2009 a Swiss national referendum voted in favour of complementary medicine being part of the public health service which is now covered by the obligatory public health insurance system. This decision was partly informed by the findings of the 2006 Health Technology Assessment report commissioned by the Swiss Government on the effectiveness, safety and cost-effectiveness of homeopathy in general practice. (Sourcecached)

Many other websites have echoed these sentiments, with many taking their lead from Ullman’s article and possibly placing far too much reliance on what he had to say, eg Swiss Government finds homeopathy effective and cost efficient (cached).

You’d think from all this that the ‘neutral’ Swiss Government had taken to homeopathy like the proverbial quacking duck to water.

Of course, to state in this context that the Swiss Government has a ‘widely-respected history of neutrality’ is to conflate political neutrality with scientific objectivity.

As usual, research of truly homeopathic proportions, misrepresentation and cherry picking are the order of the day.

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Chiro regulator admits systemic failures

I have never been 100%  sure of the exact numbers of complaints of mine the General Chiropractic Council had to deal with.

I certainly submitted a list of 524 names, but the number changed as the complaints were processed. Quite a few chiros were added to my initial list because they were at the same clinic as another I had complained about and some have been removed for various reasons. Then there were more than a few issues of chiros changing their names, moving clinics, moving abroad and other things that made it difficult to keep track, so I didn’t bother to keep my list absolutely up to date. There didn’t really seem any point in fretting over the minutiæ. After all, the GCC are a statutory regulator and they could be trusted to keep track because it was their statutory duty to deal with these things, couldn’t they?

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Cancer in Totnes

I’m not sure how I came across it, but it was probably on Twitter.

A conference on alternative cancer treatments is being held in Totnes in Devon this coming Saturday, organised by Dr Stephen Hopwood (cached) of the Totnes Cancer Health Centre (TCHC).

Because of its content, I immediately complained to Consumer Direct (the central point for Trading Standards complaints) on 2 March who passed it on to Devon Trading Standards (TS).

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The business of regulation

Simon Perry has been having an interesting email conversation with Maggy Wallace, Executive Chair of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

There have been a few emails back and forth — and it would be best to read the conversation before continuing — but I felt I needed to add my tuppence-worth:

 

Hi Maggy

I’ve been following your conversation with Simon Perry with interest and I’d like to respond to some of the points you made.

You said:

As a regulator you cannot honestly expect us to support a position as stated by you to the effect that ‘………..Genuine, honest training on reflexology must cover the simple truth that reflexology is not known to be effective for any condition.’

This is your opinion and in our view, is unsupportable as a statement.

Simon didn’t express an opinion and it’s entirely supportable. The scientific evidence on reflexology is clear: it is a nice foot massage, which some may find relaxing and stress-relieving, but nothing more. Any claims outside of that are not supported by the evidence.

You may not like the scientific evidence of course, but it is reinforced by the sheer implausibility of the claimed method of diagnosis and claimed mechanism of action for reflexology.

If you don’t agree with the scientific evidence, what do you base your assessment of reflexology on? What the professional associations tell you? Reflexology trade bodies? Your members’ websites?

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Active ingredients: still none (hopefully)

While some of us were composing our considered responses to the MHRA’s consultation on homeopathy, supporters of the magic sugar pills panicked and urged friends and homeopaths to flood the MHRA with their ill-considered responses.

This orchestrated campaign was leaked last night and gave us all a good laugh.

It was obvious the writer of the original email either hadn’t read the MHRA consultation document or was just unable to understand it and her email no doubt scared many a homeopath to write desperate emails to the named official at the MHRA. Of course, everyone is perfectly entitled to respond and make their views known. It does help, though, if you have some basic understanding of the regulatory framework and what issues the MHRA was consulting on.

The panic email contained many errors, including this gem:

The practice of homeopathy by lay homeopaths is at stake, and if the MHRA changes the wording to the document mentioned below, we will …not be allowed to practice any longer.

The originator of the email appears to be the Administrator at a ‘school’ of homeopathy, so you would have thought she might have better understood the consultation.

Her assertion is — like homeopathy — nonsense: homeopaths are not about to be stopped selling their products. The consultation is about ending the privileged position some homeopathic products were inexplicably granted 30 years ago and about the warning labels on some of them. Of course, I have no idea why homeopaths would want to maintain the status quo…

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Active ingredients: None

That’s what all homeopathic ‘medicines’ should say on their labels because that is precisely what they contain: no active ingredients.

Saying anything different is misleading the public.

For various unfathomable reasons, we have the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulating a non-medicine and a non-healthcare product. They don’t really even regulate homeopathic products. Not in any way that properly protects the public.

In fact, they do the opposite: they give these sugar pills and potions the legitimacy of having MHRA licence numbers — just like real medicines — and ‘Government approval’. This misleads the general public who are unaware that homeopathy isn’t some ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ system of medicine. It isn’t a system of medicine at all.

The MHRA are currently asking the public about some aspects of their regulation, including what wording should be on some homeopathic products and this is an ideal opportunity to tell them what we think.

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