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Editor and author response

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Poole J (2014) Individualised homeopathy after cancer treatment. Nursing Times; 110: 41, 17-19

From Nursing Times editor:

It is worth noting that this article does not in any way suggest that homeopathy or any other alternative treatment is or should be used a substitute to chemotherapy, radiotherapy or other forms of cancer treatment. It is a piece written about a community-based project designed to see if it helped people feel better after treatment.  

he article makes clear it is a small group, no control and that there are limitations. It spells these out and the necessary next steps to formulate a greater evidence base very clearly:

“The study had three main limitations:

  • Absence of male participants;
  • Small group size;
  • Lack of long-term outcome measures.

A larger, controlled study linked with an oncology outpatient unit could address each of these and be a positive next step.”

Bear in mind that our readers, and especially of this type of article, are likely to be clinicians or even clinical nurse specialists so they will be familiar with the issue of limitations.

We believe this article raises interesting discussion – and indeed it has sparked intelligent debate about the use of alternative therapies among our readers, which I don’t believe is a bad thing. We could pretend there is no public interest in this issue, but I think that does our readers a disservice, who will be asked questions about this by their patients frequently.

The article does not draw firm conclusions and is clear about its limitations. No use of homeopathy is advocated as a conclusion.

We have not and would not ever advocate replacing evidence-based medicine or clinical treatment for cancer or other serious conditions for alternative therapies that had no evidence base to back up claims of efficacy or outcomes. This piece makes it clear exactly what the limitations are and I refer you again to the quote in the article about this so I do not believe we have published anything that is in any way “misleading”.

Jenni Middleton – Editor, Nursing Times

 

From article author:

Although this study makes it clear that no claims can be made for homeopathy on the basis of this design, the suggestion made by one respondent that it has been proven  beyond doubt that homeopathy is, ‘only a placebo’ effect is  unsubstantiated by the evidence-base..  

For example,  there are many studies (including placebo controlled RCT, including with animals) which demonstrate that ‘placebo effect’ does not provide an adequate or logical explanation for the positive results frequently found. This can be found online for those who wish to read it. And this is apart from the ‘real life’ positive results such as this one, which  are frequently found.   

It is equally fanciful to declare that the S&TC Evidence Check was an ‘exhaustive’ study of the research base.  It was not. 

Further, of 19 members only 3 voted.  Two in favour of the motion (that there is insufficient evidence) and one against. 

Considering the weakness of the debate (which is a matter of public record,) this is a shockingly turnout on which to permanently dismiss homeopathic medicine and patient choice on the NHS. 

Returning to this study, if it is read, rather than reacted to, it is clear that no claims have been made in either direction (‘homoeopathy or consultation’) and it is surprising that psychologists are not fascinated by this genuine and legitimate query, rather than apparently seeking to discount the study on the bases of it. 

Sadly the individualized method of homeopathy precludes ‘blinding’, but as it is the method that is being tested here, that appears a spurious criticism.  The result suggests this is effective when accurately done. 

In short, the article has described a possible clinical service option for those who wish to help themselves when given a diagnosis of cancer.  In my view, we are not here to try to prevent articles such as this from being published, and therefore depriving those who may benefit (for whatever reason) of that choice and I am extremely disappointed that fellow psychologists are not more interested in the outcome. 

Nursing Times is to be applauded for refusing to be ‘gagged’ in the current wave of hostility toward CAM.

 

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