Read last night’s tedious Wraithscape column in the Shields Gazette? No? Here’s a quick summary to save you valuable time:
Woman’s smoke detector is broken, so she has new ones fitted. Then one night the broken smoke alarm goes off inexplicably; there’s no fire. Woman thinks it’s her dead gran trying to comfort her from beyond the grave, because said grandma loved her smoke alarms. Author Mike Hallowell thinks this tripe is spooky enough to fill column inches. Gazette editorial happy to waste ink and page space printing this rubbish.
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.
…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.
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?
Why don’t religious nutters understand that if they try and restrict free speech in the interests of protecting their own delicate sensibilities from offence, others who think offence shouldn’t crush free speech will bite back. After an extremist group warned of violence after South Park allegedly produced an image of Muslim prophet Mohammed in a bear suit in two recent episodes, the episodes have been censored, and older episodes depicting Mohammed removed from the Comedy Channel’s website.
South Park has long intentionally caused offence and not scared to mock holy cows, but in essence every show is a morality story built into an animated sit-com. When it comes to religious figures, South Park has actually been quite gentle, instead aiming to use the characters for satire, burst preconceptions and mock bigotry.
If they really want to cause offence they could mention Mohammed’s 9 year old wife.
I haven’t seen the episodes yet (so don’t spoil it for me!) but I’ll bet, like the Super Best Friends episode of South Park aired some years ago which featured Mohammed without incident, there’ll be nothing too upsetting.
From the hilarious Jesus and Mo:
Looking at skeptical-voter.org it seems that Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to rational thought. He’s voted in support of keeping the current abortion time limit at 24 weeks in line with the scientific and medical consensus. To his credit he’s also supported Early Day Motion (EDM) 377 noting the achievements if Charles Darwin (to be honest a nonsense EDM) and more usefully signed EDM 423 calling for reform of English libel laws.
There’s a but though. A very big but. Okay, two.
Note: Before I go further, I’m keenly aware that EDMs are like petitions; they are easy to sign and are mostly pretty harmless, as there is little chance they will ever make law. However, they are an indication into the thinking of the signing MP and where their allegiances lie.
Back to the bad bits.
First up: Mr Hepburn signed EDM 742, calling for religious based adoption agencies to be excluded from the Equality Act to allow these agencies to discriminate against gay couples. To clarify, he put his name to an early day motion calling for homophobic bigotry practised by religious agencies to be legislatively normalised. That’s right people of Jarrow and Hebburn – your MP thought it was fine for religions to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.
In 2007, Mr Hepburn signed EDM 1240, a kind of EDM for Ignorance – calling for the positive recognition of NHS homeopathic hospitals:
“That this House welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals; notes that some six million people use complementary treatments each year; believes that complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome; expresses concern that NHS cuts are threatening the future of these hospitals; and calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets.”
If you didn’t know, homeopathy is where an active ingredient in a drug is repeatedly diluted to the point where none of the original drug is left, but the water magically holds the ‘memory’ of the active ingredient. The theory is that the active ingredient memory in the water pills will cure the patient but without any nasty side effects. Basically, it’s bunkum, violates several fundamental principles of science, without a shred of credible evidence to support it.
Earlier this year a House of Commons committee inquiry into homeopathy concluded that homeopathy was no more effective than placebos. That’s right, Hepburn signed up to backing hospitals whose treatments are based on unproven assertions and condemned by authorities such as the World Health Organisation. There’s a concern that people suffering illnesses may become worse or die because of relying on unproven and unregulated treatments. That means the money spent on these hospitals he supported wasn’t just wasted, but contributed to ill health and death. Frankly, Hepburn might as well have signed his support for prayer hospitals or crystal healing.
It’s worrying that an MP would support such woo.
Don’t take my word for it, Dara O’Briain sums up homeopathic woo (hat tip to the The Skeptic) much better than I can.
Tonight I managed to avoid three wankers speak complete drivel they didn’t believe on some kind of gameshow in an attempt to sell double glazing, or something. Instead I drank beer.
Despite tonight’s political Call My Bluff, there was a victory of truth today, and that was Simon Singh’s success against the British Chiropractic Association, who dropped their frivolous case against Mr Singh. The BCA raised the libel case, in what many see as an attempt to stifle reasonable criticism, for an article Mr Singh wrote in the Guardian in 2008, where he raised concerns about claims made by chiropractors, claims without any solid scientific evidence.
However, despite the success, our libel laws still sit there, ready to be used to stifle criticism and freedom of speech.
Read Ben Goldacre’s excellent article on the Singh case here.
If you want to point to a big steaming pile of woo that passes itself off as mainstream it’s got to be homeopathy. Fortunately some MPs have seen through the unproven nonsense and recommended that the NHS should stop funding homeopathic treatments. Every pound spent on what are in effect placebos is a pound not spent on genuine medicine.
£4m may not seem a lot out of a multi billion pound NHS budget, but in these cash strapped times it’s more essential than ever that funding goes where it would be the most beneficial and effective. If people want to spend their own money on herbal teas, chiropractors and watered down medicines, then fine, but the taxpayer deserves money to be targeted on proven treatments which give real results, not relying on faith and deception.
But homeopathy isn’t the only faith funding for which the taxpayer foots the bill. The £4m to homeopathy is outweighed by a factor of 10 when it comes to religion in hospitals. Something like £40m every year goes to hospital chaplaincy services in the NHS. When staff and visitors have to pay a rip-off £1.20 an hour to park at hospitals like South Tyneside Hospital, and patients can pay £3.50 to watch twelve hours of TV at their bed, surely it’s not beyond the realms of reasonable expectation that patients can pay for their chaplaincy services, or the churches involved provide those services free to their flock?
Some patients will find an emotional benefit in natural remedies and spiritual support, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of what the NHS is there to do – treat patients with medicine backed by cold hard science.