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Homoeopathy 'mad' says former government scientist


A former government scientific advisor has criticised the use of homoeopathic treatments in the NHS, claiming the practice has “no scientific basis”.

Professor Sir John Beddington, who retired from his post at the beginning of the month, said he was annoyed that taxpayers money was being wasted on homoeopathy despite it having no medical or scientific proof of its effectiveness.

Speaking in the Daily Telegraph, Sir John said his view on homoeopathy being used by GPs and in NHS hospitals was the only thing that was ignored during chief scientific advisor to the government.

He said: “The only one I could think of was homoeopathy, which is mad. It has no underpinning of scientific basis.

“In fact all of the science points to the fact that it is not at all sensible.

“The clear evidence is saying this is wrong, but homoeopathy is still used on the NHS.”

Homoeopathy is based on the principle that an illness or disease can be treated by things that produce similar symptoms. People suffering from insomnia have been given small doses of caffeine under homoeopathic treatments, but it can also be used for things as serious as cancer.

This is despite widespread scepticism about its effectiveness, with many medical professionals believing that it works only through the placebo effect, as patients see their condition improve despite not being given a medical treatment.

However, the approach does have some high-profile backers, with the Prince of Wales outspoken in its effectiveness and health secretary Jeremy Hunt also a supporter.

Homoeopathy, which uses highly diluted extracts from plants, herbs and minerals to treat conditions is thought to cost the NHS between £4m and £12m a year.

The British Medical Association has in the past described homoeopathy as “witchcraft”, while it has also attracted criticism from Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, who said it was “rubbish”.

In 2010 the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee said that the government should stop providing the treatment on the NHS.


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Readers' comments (28)

  • Between £4 and £12 million is a very wide margin. Would be good to know how the cost of conventional treatments for these patients would compare. I understand scientists' discomfort because homoeopathy isn't explained within their field of understanding, but I wonder if they asked the patients if it helps them before dismissing it.

    Has worked brilliantly for myself and my family when we have used it.

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  • Pharmaceutical companies would make even larger profits in marketing highly diluted products which may or may not work for some people.

    Wonder if everyone should be given a choice of receiving homoeopathic, conventional or alternative medicine. Then stick with their decision. This might also help establish the efficacy of their treatment. However patients probably wouldn't like the idea of being guinea pigs for various studies.

    Its likely costs are an issue, especially when something doesn't work and other medications + treatment have to be prescribed which then adds to the cost.
    Some people don't want to be paying taxes for other people's non conventional treatments. Though arguments could extend into other areas such as health issues of lifestyles, body image changes, and postcode lottery of latest / most expensive medications. However at present we have no say where our taxes + NI contributions end up.

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  • Yes But

    Homeopathic treatment might work - you need to examine that empirically.

    The idea that pure water can have a clinical effect, however, would totally undermine the scientific understanding of the world - it would also make the potential properties of tap-water, rather worrying !

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  • Yes But | 11-Apr-2013 11:52 am

    surely the fate of all those patients who received no water is adequate proof of its benefits.

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  • michael stone

    Yes But | 11-Apr-2013 11:52 am

    Anonymous | 11-Apr-2013 1:53 pm

    Ah - but water can be lethal (drowning).

    Lynne, I'm pleased homeopathy has worked for you (and apparently, weirdly, the placebo effect has been shown to still occur, even if you tell the patient the placebo is a mere placebo {I can't get my head around that one !}), but many of us have a sort of instinctive objection, to a system claiming that chemically pure water 'has a history'.

    As Yes But commented, that doesn't mean the treatment cannot work - bit it introduces a complication the 'scientific' among us, tend to 'get irritated by' at a sort of visceral level !

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  • DH Agent - as if ! | 11-Apr-2013 3:37 pm

    Yes But | 11-Apr-2013 11:52 am

    Anonymous | 11-Apr-2013 1:53 pm

    Ah - but water can be lethal (drowning).

    well obviously a little common sense has to be applied with the exercise of the utmost caution when administering it to your patients to determine in each case whether or not the benefits will outweigh the dangers!

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  • tinkerbell

    Voltaire - "The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease"

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  • michael stone

    tinkerbell | 11-Apr-2013 7:36 pm

    Wasn't it Voltaire who wrote Candide ?

    The hero in Candide, if I remember correctly, falls ill and we are told that 'he had the good fortune to be too poor to call a doctor, lay in his room for a week or so, and therefore recovered' (my paraphrase).

    Voltaire seems to have serious doubts about the medics of his age !

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  • Tiger Girl

    Was it Voltaire who first said "cogito ergo bibo", or was it an unknown A&E nurse?

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  • tinkerbell | 11-Apr-2013 7:36 pm

    wise words, further training urgently needed!

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