The Skeptic Canary

The blog of Dr Tom Williamson, atheist, humanist, skeptic and Norwich City fan!

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Homeopathy on the NHS in Liverpool: thriving or moribund?

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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.

Written by Tom

December 30th, 2011 at 11:08 am

Posted in homeopathy,ten23

Homeopathy back on the NHS on the Wirral?

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Boots homeopathy

Homeopathy, soon available on the NHS on the Wirral?

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?

Written by Tom

August 29th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Mike Adams the Health Ranger on the 10:23 campaign against homeopathy

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As a skeptic, I’ve been waiting for this day for quite a long time. These days, no debate on health or science is complete without a contribution from the sparkling brain of Mike “Health Ranger” Adams. Today, Mike Adams has shared his thoughts on the 10:23 campaign against homeopathy, and my, is it a barnstorming rant of epic lunacy!

Like the homeopath (or ‘homeopathist’ according to 5live) interviewed with Michael Marshall on the BBC, Mike Adams doesn’t get the point of the 10:23 overdose. Convential medicines do something, and work at a recommended dose. If you take to much, you go over that dose and it can be harmful, hence ‘overdose’. However, with homeopathy there is nothing to ‘dose’ on in the first place, making an ‘overdose’ impossible. This is simply because there is nothing in it!

Anyway, Adams argues that we skeptics aren’t ‘sophisticated’ enough to understand the underlying mechanisms of homeopathy. Sadly, us skeptics require evidence to believe things and don’t follow the Mike Adam’s philosophy of ‘making shit up as we go along’. With this in mind, reading his attempts to grasp physics and chemistry are usually as funny as watching James Delingpole wrestle with the concept of peer review:

But homeopathy isn’t a chemical. It’s a resonance. A vibration, or a harmony. It’s the restructuring of water to resonate with the particular energy of a plant or substance. We can get into the physics of it in a subsequent article, but for now it’s easy to recognize that even from a conventional physics point of view, liquid water has tremendous energy, and it’s constantly in motion, not just at the molecular level but also at the level of its subatomic particles and so-called “orbiting electrons” which aren’t even orbiting in the first place. Electrons are vibrations and not physical objects.

Of course, there is no evidence that homeopathic preparations are ‘resonating’ or ‘vibrating’ any more than sugar pills or water, and even if they did, what effect would that have? His understanding of what an electron is gets worse:

For now, they’ve all convinced themselves that electrons are — get this — tiny “particles” flying around atomic nuclei and tremendous speeds which just happen to stay in their little orbits like little perpetual motion machines (which they say are impossible), until all of a sudden, these electron “particles” inexplicably leap to a higher or lower orbit without occupying the space in-between those orbits at any moment. Yep, magic teleporting particles! That’s the “scientific” explanation of these folks. No wonder so many of them are magicians: Believing their explanations requires that you believe in particle magic!

Amazing! Note how Mike Adams tries to justify homeopathy by invoking ‘resonances’, but massively misunderstands and rejects understood notions of electron behavior. Do we have an ‘electron denier’ on our hands?

Following on from this, Mike reveals that he has his own version of the 10:23 challenge: we should all overdose on real medicine. Although he’s oblivious to the fact that this would prove the point of the overdose, he comes up with my favourite line in the article:

What really drives the skeptics crazy is that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to kill themselves. To be so out of touch with the beautiful, loving and holographic nature of the universe around us is to retreat to a self-loathing worldview that can only be resolved through self destruction.

Let’s ignore the fact that we skeptics aren’t trying to kill ourselves, and look at his description of the universe. How does Mike Adams accept the ‘holographic principle’ of the universe when he doesn’t believe in electrons?

For the rest of the article, Adams bashes out the same tired old canards about chemotherapy killing people, acquiring repeat business (of course, no one ever visits a homeopath more than once), and that vaccines lower IQ. His final words on homeopathy and the 10:23 campaign is this sober thought:

So if you’re looking for safe medicine, definitely take a look at homeopathic remedies. They so safe that even the critics can’t overdose on them… but you have to admit the attempt makes for great entertainment.

Ah, ‘safety’. Yes, homeopathy is safe, in the same way that sitting on a comfy sofa is safe. Unfortunately for homeopathy, the comfy sofa is just as effective in treating disease.

He ends the article by revealing that the nonsense on naturalnews.com is about to be raised by another power. None other than one of twitter’s rudest members, Dana Ullman is joining their ranks! Rejoice!

Written by Tom

February 11th, 2011 at 2:14 pm