Evidence Check – can anyone do maths?

Well it’s another week after the second meeting of the Evidence Check and the sound bites continue, they’ve now reached  online regional newspapers wringing every last drop out of yesterday’s news.

I wonder though, can someone not put the record straight – how much DOES the NHS spend on homeopathic medicines?  The Telegraph went for “£4 million a year on dispensing homeopathy to patients.”  But is that the cost of the medicines, or the cost of dispensing them, or both?  Because The Guardian reported that the NHS spent “£12 million on homeopathic remedies between 2005 and 2008”.  £4 million a year again, but suggests it’s only for the medicines.  Sounds like a small point I know, but it wouldn’t be if you were footing the bill.  The Minister of State, Mike O’Brien, told us that the NHS bill for homeopathic medicines was around £150,000 a year, a bit of a difference, although he went on to add that the cost of providing homeopathy, including running 4 homeopathic hospitals, paying for GP homeopathic services and referrals etc was around £12 million a year – a figure he said he got from The Guardian !  Mike O’B did remind everyone that the drug budget of the NHS (that’s not the NHS budget, just the part for drugs) is around £11billion a year, and that since homeopathy is already funded by the NHS and there is a group of clinicians who believe it works, they should continue to have the right to prescribe it.

So just to be clear, that’s £11billion for drugs compared to £150,000 for homeopathic remedies.
All right then.  Sorted.

I understand that in the current circumstances, the homeopathic community is grateful for any glimmer of light at the end of this long, dark tunnel, but the email that went round declaring it: “A great day for Homeopathy!” was perhaps a little premature.  Mike O’Brien is a politician and likely to be out of office at the next election, and in any case no matter what he says government policy is, individual Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) hold the purse strings with the power to make homeopathy available, or not, for patients within their jurisdiction.  We know already that the PCTs have been petitioned by the anti-homeopathy campaign.  The original ’13 doctor’ letter that went out back in May 2007, signed by (13) eminent doctors and retired professors, implored colleagues not to provide an ‘impossible, implausible’ medicine on the NHS.  That letter was written on NHS headed note paper – even though the letter had not come from the NHS and a question was asked about in parliament just the week before the Evidence Check……

UK Parliament 14.10.09 Gillian Merron, Minister of State, Dept of Health:

“ …..the honourable gentleman raised concerns about a document recommending disinvestment from homeopathy, which was circulated using the NHS logo.  I can confirm that our enquiries found no record of the Department having authorized the use of the NHS logo and that those who originated the document were asked not to circulate it any further.  They were advised about the use of the logo in future and chief executives of (primary care) trusts were also informed that the document does not represent Government policy.”

Meanwhile, in the interests of efficiency, Dr Thallon, medical director of Kent PCT has offered to provide the results of his investigation into homeopathy on the NHS to other PCTs for use in their decision making process – the same investigation that led to the closing of the Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital last year.

That’s the kind of shenanigans we’re up against.

For fun I just googled ‘Evidence Check’ and ‘homeopathy’ and what do you know – Voice of (not so) Young Homeopathy was right there on the first page – not surprisingly below layscience, ukskeptics, and the James Randi forum – but most encouragingly was just below the World Homeopathy Community – and ABOVE Sense  About Science – and that’s without using all manner of meta tag shenanigans to crawl up the google ranks.

Word for the day: Shenanigans – secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering.

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