Should we cut homoeopathy from the NHS budget?
Posted by Jonathan Chamberlain on April 7, 2014
Here is an argument I have come across recently:
“The NHS budget is under many stresses and there are strong moves to get homoeopathic treatment elminated as a cost item – therefore saving £12 million. It is after all completely ineffective because it cannot possibly work.”
Even such a short statements throws up enormous discussion points on such questions as:
1. Does homoeopathy work in itself or does it just trigger placebo responses?
2. If it does only work through placebo responses is it ethical or unethical to continue its use?
3. If there is evidence that it does work in itself what are we to do with the belief that it simply cannot work?
4. If there is ‘evidence’ it works perhaps there are flaws in the research.
5. If a lot of people insist that it does work maybe £12 million is cheap at the price because it keeps those people from needing more expensive drugs, even if it doesn’t.
6. What else could we eliminate costing £12 million or more that would be a better use of our budget-cutting time?
Well, let’s take chemo, which I discussed below. If we got rid of all chemo that would save a great deal more money. At £30,000 a pop we would only need to eliminate 400 uses of chemo to pay the entire budget for homoeopathy – seems like a good deal to me – especially as we know that chemo is not very effective for most cancers – if it were more effective cancer wouldn’t be the leading killer it is – that it is used often just to buy a few months of life. There are some cases where chemo is definitely useful but there are times when the doctors do not truly believe that the chemo is justified but they have to give it because:
1. The patient or family are begging for it in the mistaken belief (mostly) that it might be effective
2. It is the protocol
3. Not giving it could rebound in the form of negative impacts to career prospects, potential law suits for negligence etc etc
And the taxpayer is funding this.
So in value for money terms homoeopathy is a great deal more effective than chemo.
But of course the argument that homoeopathy is a waste of money has nothing to do with the money. It is about attacking ‘false belief’. It is driven by ideology by scientific fundamentalists who demand certainty. Unfortunately we live in a world where reality is always going to be filled with uncertainty. To deal with this problem scientific fundamentalists try to simplify reality so that it fits into their scheme of things and so can become ‘certain.’
To achieve this aim they find they cannot rely on personal experience for answers (much too subjective) so faced with a choice between a clear example that hits them in the face and data from a research centre of excellence, they will say to themselves: The scientists are right. And because they are right there is no point in my doing anything that might give me direct personal experience that may conflict with this truth.
We can see this with vitamin C. It has been ‘proved’ that it doesn’t cure colds or cancer. Yet I know that every time I feel a cold or flu coming along all I have to do is throw large quantities of the stuff down my throat. Works say 95% of the time. Placebo? Hey, if it takes large doses of vitamin C to trigger a placebo response then give it to me. (though it appears that the placebo response is not as strongly connected with belief that something works as we imagine it might be)
We can see this with lavender essential oil. Cut or burn yourself and all you have to do is pour the oil liberally over the affected area and it will very quickly heal. Yet ask the experts and they will say there is no empirical evidence that it is effective. Who are you going to believe?
So what do I trust? My experience or the experts? Since my experience has contradicted the ‘evidence-based’ opinion of the experts, I find I have no choice but to:
a) view all ‘evidence-based’ opinions with a very suspicious mind.
b) base my understanding of the world on my own experience and the experience of others – so called ‘anecdotal evidence’ (my experience is your anecdotal evidence).
We now come to ask the question as to why we are asking these questions in the first place? Is it to know the truth? Or is it to have a guide, a sign-post to decision making? If I see that someone has beaten their cancer using a herb, I will try that herb if I get cancer. Why? Because the risk benefit analysis suggests that would be the smart thing to do.
Anyone who bases all their knowledge solely on published empirical research is using a very restricted rationality to deal with the problems of life. Let them get on with it, but let me have the treatments I want. I don’t want a medical system that is a dictatorship of doctors. I want a medical system that gives me free access to what I want (herbs, supplements and other alternative therapies)