A few months ago, the Wirral Primary Care Trust (PCT) made the extremely reasonable decision to cease funding for homeopathy. This was done at a meeting of the Professional Executive Committee (PEC), which followed a public consultation (which I attended). John Cook of Northwest Friends of Homeopathy presented the case for homeopathy in both the public consultation and the PEC meeting, whilst Michael Marshall from the Merseyside Skeptics Society provided a voice for those who want their NHS to provide treatments based on good evidence. The PEC considered the evidence, and voted to scrap funding for homeopathy.
I thought that would be the end of it. However, Jo Brodie reports that this is not the case. Pauline Lomas, a cancer survivor and apparent fan of many ‘alternative therapies’ out there, instructed her solicitors Leigh Day & Co to challenge the Wirral PCT’s decision to hold it’s drug and therapy commissioning meetings in private. According to the Leigh Day & Co website (who illustrate the case with a bottle of vitamins), the action “would not have been possible without funding from the Legal Services Commission”, which as far as I’m aware means that they were able to access legal aid for this case.
So what will this mean for NHS funding of homeopathy on the Wirral? My guess is that there will be another commissioning meeting, held in public, where the homeopathy sympathisers will once again show up to bombard members of the PEC with their anecdotes. The science will not change, the evidence in support of homeopathy will be no better. I see no reason why the PCT will change their minds, they have essentially been caught out on a technicality. I imagine it’s cheaper to do this than to enter a legal battle with the solicitors.
Personally, the only aspect of the decision to stop funding for homeopathy that I have any sympathy for is the amount of notice given of the public consultation. However, that didn’t stop a room full of homeopathy sympathisers from filling two rooms at the PCT to tell the PEC their anecdotes. Needless to say, anecdotes don’t cut it as scientific evidence, so any other public consultation will just be a repeat and a pretty fruitless exercise. Having said that, it is good that the NHS is engaging with it’s patients, and I for one will be looking forward to being able to have my say again. I’m more concerned about Legal Aid being used to challenge a decision by a PCT to stop funding a pseudoscience. Another case of the law being used to defend quackery, as in the Simon Singh case?