Diluted Democracy

Or why I won’t be rejoining the Green Party any time soon

Whilst I was a member of the Green Party, one of the problems I had with the party was it’s health policy support for what could be best described (charitably) as ‘alternative’ treatments.  However, all parties have their eccentrics and eccentric policies, and I believed that with the wealth of rational policies on the environment and economics it was worth the compromise as policies can be changed with engagement and debate.

In the run up to the election I was given hope that the Green Party’s position on alternative medicine was going to shift to a rational evidence based approach when Green Party leader Caroline Lucas responded to the Skeptical Voter campaign that:

“We believe all treatments should be independently assessed for effectiveness and safety before being made available for use on the NHS.

and

…decisions have to be made on the best science currently available

As homeopathy has no plausible evidence to back it as an effective treatment, this seemed like an indication that the Green Party wouldn’t support homeopathy on the NHS.

Watering down past history

But Caroline Lucas tweeted earlier today, simply posting a link to an Early Day Motion website, specifically referencing EDM 284.  EDM 284 was raised by fan of homeopathic treatments David Tredinnick MP, a serial EDM-er in support of homeopathy.  Lucas had signed Tredinnick’s EDM, joining 24 other signatories including political giant Keith Vaz.  This signals a change in direction from her claims to the Skeptical Voter.

After her first simple tweet, Lucas’ next Twitter post seemed to be an attempt to justify her support for the EDM:

EDM is about lack of BMA’s consultation & argues that local NHS better placed to know patient needs, based on objective clinical assessment

Which is sadly a twitter-sized rehashing of the EDM, rather than a reasoned argument.  And it’s wrong.  Underneath the BMA bluster the EDM is simply naked support of a practice which has no proven therapeutic value above that of a placebo.

Going through the motions

EDM 284 was raised in response to motions raised to be discussed at the British Medical Association’s Annual Representative Meeting:

That this Meeting believes that, in the absence of valid scientific evidence of benefit:
(i) there should be no further commissioning of, nor funding for, homeopathic remedies or homeopathic hospitals in the NHS;
(ii) no UK training post should include a placement in homeopathy;
(iii) pharmacists and chemists should remove homeopathic remedies from shelves indicating they are ‘medicines’ of any description, and place them on shelves clearly labelled ‘placebos’.

It seems straightforward enough, and pretty unremarkable.  The NHS shouldn’t pay for homeopathy, and homeopathic remedies should be clearly sold as non-efficacious remedies.  The motions were there to protect patients and save the taxpayer from paying for treatments that don’t work any better than placebos, and could actually result in harm.

Tredinnick’s EDM 284 was a clear step into the BMA’s business, as the BMA has the right as an independent body to express its views on treatments.  EDM 284 whinges:

That this House expresses concern at motions 301, 301a, 301b, 301c, 301d, 301e and 301f at this year’s British Medical Association’s (BMA) Annual Representative Meeting, which calls for no further commissioning of, nor funding for, homeopathic remedies in the NHS; believes that the BMA has overstepped its remit by making such statements without proper consultation with its own membership that practice homeopathy and, more importantly, with the tens of thousands of patients who depend on homeopathy; thinks that an integrated NHS, which employs the best from the orthodox and complementary, and which empowers patients, could deliver better and more cost-effective outcomes at a time of financial prudence; and calls on the Government to maintain its policy of allowing decision-making on individual clinical interventions, including homeopathy, to remain in the hands of local NHS service providers and practitioners who are best placed to know their community’s needs.

Phew.

What’s pathetic is that Tredinnick raised an EDM for motions that hadn’t yet been discussed.  Despite Tredinnick’s attempt the poison the well, the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting passed the motions with little changed.  In response, Tredinnick fired off another Early Day Motion, EDM 342.

A Modern Green Party

In reality nobody takes much notice of EDMs.  They have little influence on Parliamentary activity, often being puff pieces for the EDM proposer’s own vanity or to show the proposing MP’s supporters where he or she stands on specific issues.  Very rarely do EDMs make it to law.  But the value or otherwise is not what my main point is about.  In this particular case, it reveals a change in approach by Caroline Lucas to homeopathy, and one which could be very damaging to the Green Party.  From the perspective of her as leader of the Green Party, it will give the appearance that she is setting Party policy on the fly.

Caroline Lucas has not yet signed EDM 342, and I’m hoping she doesn’t, and I’m hoping she withdraws her name from EDM 284.  As the only Green Party MP and the party’s leader, she has raised the party’s media exposure, and her act risks confirming for many potential voters the hair shirt, new age, weirdo image that many Green Party members have been fighting hard to destroy.  It’s hard to promote the party as modern and rational while the party leader gives succor to little more than wishful thinking and witchcraft.

Our NHS can’t afford homeopathy even when times are good.  We really can’t afford it when cuts are are closing Accident & Emergency departments and losing beds.  Shouldn’t the taxpayer only be paying for treatments that are proven to work?

For more resources highlighting the nonsense and dangers of homeopathy, take a look at the 1023 campaign, and the What’s the Harm? sites.

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4 responses to “Diluted Democracy”

  1. Bryan says :

    At the risk of pouring petrol onto the flames I disagree!
    Not about homeopathy which is a load of bollocks (although we shouldn’t dismiss the benefits that the placebo effect and good communication can bring) but about closing A&E departments.
    We all get sentimental about our local A&E dept, but if the purpose of an A&E dept is to save life and limb I can put forward a very strong argument that we would get better results by having less, but more expert A&E departments.
    This isn’t a cost cutting option. To work properly it would require a highly trained, well equipped and extensive paramedic service.

  2. Peter Smith says :

    The reason why I won’t be going anywhere near the Green Party in the near future is their rabid anti science approach to just about everything going.

  3. Gary Dunion says :

    It’s unfair to say the Green Party has anti-science approach – it is the only party listening to the science on climate change or fishery stocks, for example, and at its most recent conference it enthusiastically ditched scientifically-dodgy throwback health policies that had lain unnoticed on its books for years.

    That said about the party as a whole, this signature of Lucas’s is disappointing. It should be seen as an isolated fly in the otherwise most rewarding ointment of her record so far – exposing a new Trafigura trial, campaigning for justice for Ian Tomlinson, speaking out against the attack on the Gaza aid flotilla.

    But it is a fly nonetheless and science-minded Greens are clear in our message to our leader: you back the science on climate change, now please back the science on medicine.

    GP member and skeptic Naomi Mc gives her view here

  4. brian says :

    I agree with Gary; it’s unfair to characterise the Green Party as anti-science, as they’ve been ahead of all of the other UK parties in many areas, and particularly on the sustainability agenda.

    I’ve looked at Naomi Mc’s post on the issue and I see there’s a lot to agree with. I don’t agree that it’s Caroline Lucas’ first mistake, but it’s certainly her most public. Looking at the comments on Naomi’s post it’s particularly worrying that early on we have Derek Wall promoting the line that it’s a pharmaceutical industry conspiracy whilst implying that homeopathy represents value for money. It’s disappointing because I used to see Derek Wall as one of the more rational voices in the party. He has an influential position in the Green Party which suggests that support for homeopathy and other equally unproven treatments is a lot more mainstream in the leadership than I had originally thought.

    If anything, I’m even more concerned that the Green Party is at risk of exposing itself (and it’s activists) to the kinds criticism I’ve mentioned above.

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