Homeopathy on the NHS in Liverpool: thriving or moribund?

Water dropJust what is the current state of NHS provision in Liverpool, birthplace of the 10:23 campaign against homeopathy and my current residence? As a skeptic and ardent 10:23 swallower, I was very happy to learn from Andy Lewis on Quackometer that the Liverpool Homeopathic Hospital has closed. This seemed to happen without any fanfare from the NHS or wailing from homeopathy sympathisers. In fact, the British Homeopathic Association appeared to simply remove the name of the hospital from it’s own website. If you’re interested, you can see that both Liverpool and the Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital were listed on the same page in 2009.

So far, so good. No NHS Homeopathic Hospital in Liverpool, homeopathy in retreat. However, a short while later I learned from the Faculty of Homeopathy that NHS homeopathy was in fact “thriving” in Liverpool:

A new clinic is now providing homeopathic treatment to NHS patients in Liverpool. The Liverpool Medical Homeopathy Service (LMHS) operates from the Old Swan Health Centre in Old Swan and is staffed by medically trained homeopaths. Patients can gain NHS access to the service through a letter of referral from their GP.

Liverpool PCT is commissioning the new service from the LMHS which is a Community Interest Company, a limited company created to provide a service for the benefit of the community and not purely for private advantage. The setting up of the clinic also highlights the new approach to commissioning NHS services being adopted as part of the government’s NHS reforms.

The rest of the article quotes the Clinical Director at LMHS, one Dr Hugh Nielsen, who trots out the usual argument from antiquity and the ‘patient satisfaction’ red herring. I remember Dr. Hugh Nielsen BA MA BM BCh MRCP FFHom (not sure which one of those bachelors, masters, memberships and fellowships allow him to be called Dr) from the NHS Wirral consultation on homeopathy, so it’s not at all surprising that he’s trying to continue the tradition of treating people with sugar pills!

As you might expect, I was rather perturbed by this. I wanted to find out more. I could find very little information about the new service on the internet, so I thought I’d have a go at writing a Freedom of Information request to my local PCT. This is what I asked for:

I have read that the Liverpool PCT now commissions homeopathic services from the Liverpool Medical Homeopathy Service (LMHS) based at the Old Swan Health Centre. Is this true, and if so how much money is being spent on it?

The yesterday, I was glad to see that my request had been answered:

I can confirm that there is a homeopathy service based at Old Swan called the Liverpool Medical Homeopathy Service (LMHS). The service operates under any qualified provider arrangements. This means that no level of income or activity is guaranteed. Payment to the Provider is based on the number of patients attending the service who are referred by their GP. Referral into the service is only via primary care. The service commenced 1st November 2011; to date we have not received a request for payment from the provider.

Now, I’m no expect on healthcare provision and I’d appreciate some more insights, but I found this reply intriguing. Firstly, it’s plain confirmation that the LMHS service does indeed exist, but it’s NHS funding is based solely on the number of people referred to it. The reply is dated December 29th 2011 and the service commenced on November 1st 2011, and as of yet the LMHS has not requested any payment from the PCT. Am I wrong to think that no payments = no patients? Homeopathy thriving in Liverpool, indeed.

CERN Comic Sans Rage Comic

The hunt for the elusive Higgs boson at CERN was slightly overshadowed by the fact that the presentation shown last week contained the infamous Comic Sans font. Twitter exploded in a cacophony of rage and bile, so I’ve made a little Rage comic (yes, I am obsessed with them) to parody the ridiculousness nature of the situation. Enjoy!

Comic Sans Rage

Thank you Hackney Skeptics, Ignite Liverpool and York Skeptics!

A little while ago I blogged about going on a ‘mini tour‘, giving talks at Hackney, Liverpool and York. Well, it’s now all done and dusted, I had a fantastic time, and I hope everyone who came to see me enjoyed themselves!

On November 28th I was very privileged to have the honour of speaking at the very first Hackney Skeptics in the Pub. Alice and James did a great job of hosting the event, and it seemed like a great crowd to be a part of. It was held at the Hackney Attic, a very nice venue with some very good food. The group will have a bright future, I highly recommend it!

Ignite Liverpool 8 was held on December 1st, and I volunteered myself to give a 5 minute talk on ATP. I was a little nervous this time, as I did try and introduce a lot of tricky concepts (like enzymology and active transport) all in just 20 slides! The whole evening was fun and informative, if you missed it you can view a video of the entire event here.

This Monday (December 12th) I took my “Scientific Method” talk to the York Skeptics. Once again I was well looked after, and as it was a bit of a homecoming for me (I did my first two degrees there) I got to catch up with friends old and new. Big thanks to Rob, Drew and the rest of the organising committee for putting the event on. They’ve got Simon Singh coming up in January, so keep an eye on their web site.

It has to be said that the star of the evening in York was my old mate Paul Hopwood. Rob had revealed on Twitter that he was bringing some placebo bands, so I asked at dinner if anyone knew the ‘applied kinesiology’ tests. Paul revealed that he’d demonstrated them the day before, and was happy to do it in front of an audience. He commanded the stage with aplomb, and carried out the tests pretty much flawlessly on a willing victim volunteer. Hopefully Paul will demonstrate his skills again at an open mic night!

As I’ve still got some strong ties to York, and one June Tranmer engaged in a debate on acupuncture on the event’s Facebook page, I thought I’d take a look at alternative medicine in York. It was slightly depressing to see just how much woo there is there. Obviously there are the ghost tours, but they are all about theatrics, drama and storytelling. They are an art form and not masquerading as science, so I don’t have a problem with them. The same can’t be said for June’s clinic. They offer 27 (count them) different therapies, covering all sorts of evidence-free ‘treatments’. My old university isn’t free from it either. I looked into the Complementary Medicine Research Group, and found their opening paragraph to be rather pro-woo. Not only that, I learned that Dr Hugh MacPherson from the group also works as an acupuncturist. At that point, someone in the crowd offered up a very telling anecdote about Dr MacPherson, but I won’t repeat it here in case it’s libelous!

Once again, I’d like to thank everyone involved in all the talks I given over the last two weeks. I’m always available to do more, so if you’d like me to speak about science at your society just drop me an email: tom at skepticcanary.com. Cheers!