Homeopathy may be diluted out of existence in the UK

By Phil Plait | February 22, 2010 10:55 am

2010 may very well be the best year skeptics have ever had, and we’re only two months in!

Why, you ask? Because the Ministers of Parliament in the UK have decided that homeopathy is a waste of the National Health Service’s money.

W

0

0

t

!!!

Homeopaths get taxpayer support in the UK to the tune of £4M per year (and probably more), money which goes to prescriptions and four homeopathic hospitals — hospitals which I assume are incredibly tiny, so that their cures are stronger.

Ha! See what I did there?

Anyway, the taxpayers’ money is being wasted because homeopathy is pseudoscientific nonsense. It’s water, pure (ha!) and simple, and has no efficacy beyond that of a placebo. Myriads of tests have shown this beyond any reasonable doubt. And, in fact, homeopathy is dangerous because it can divert people away from taking real medicine, which can have very serious repercussions.

I am thrilled with this news! Now, this does not mean homeopathy will promptly be defunded. It looks like there will be more reports and such, and the NHS will have a response to the MPs in a couple of months. But it’s a major step, and a good one.

MORE ABOUT: homeopathy

Comments (69)

  1. Katharine

    WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

  2. ScottW

    Getting it defunded by the NHS would be great, but that wouldn’t get rid of it in the UK outright. A good first step, if it happens, though.

  3. Peptron

    Dilluting homeopathy will only make it stronger. The only reasonable course to get rid of it is to saturate it completely. Make homeopathy the ONLY available medical recourse for a while and then it will be on the way out.

  4. Stuart Greig

    I caught this on the BBC news at lunchtime (GMT) and wondered when you would carry the story. Whilst I welcome the news I can’t say that I am holding my breath on how long it will be before the funding gets cut.

    Too many vested interests and political parties vying for funding in the run-up to the election in May. All we can hope is that one of the major parties picks it up as a campaign issue to cut the waste of money that there is in the NHS.

    Can’t wait to discuss with my father though, I still shudder at his response last time I raised the point of homeopathy. He’s a pharmacist with 45 years of experience in dealing with the public and didn’t have a problem with selling homeopathic remedies as “there’s no evidence that they do any harm” Eh??

  5. Yojimbo

    But…. if they take away the funding, won’t that make the homeopaths wealthier?

  6. Steve Jeffers

    The obvious solution is to take the four million pounds homeopathy gets at the moment, then reduce and reduce and reduce it until they get only a single penny, but a penny that has magical purchasing properties bestowed upon it by angels.

  7. This is awesome news. However I found it funnier that when I got to the bottom of this article in my RSS reader, Google had suggested a “Homeopathic ADHD Remedy” to me.. LOL.

  8. Levi in NY

    Wow! Might this have something to do with The 10^23 Campaign?!

  9. To make the most effective comment I am not saying anything.

  10. Pieter Kok

    You mean “Members of Parliament”. Some of them are ministers, but most of them are not.

    I am very happy about this. On the BBC comments page the responses are divided in pro and contra homeopathy. The former basically all consist of anecdotes, as predicted by commenters in the latter category. :)

  11. NoSpams

    No homeopathy for the people ? So homeopathy will became a fashion treatment only for the (not necessarily smart) riches and famous.

  12. Martin Gill

    I like select committees, the only place where actual work seems to get done.

    I watched Ben Goldacre (noted skeptic) give evidence on this, he’s always good. Glad they managed to see sense and dump the whole homoeopathy stuff.

    You can watch Ben give evidence here (not sure if this is available outside the UK). Ben Starts at about 06:15.

    http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=5221

    Feel free to laugh at all the Woos giving evidence.

  13. NelC

    That should be “Members of Parliament”, not “Ministers”. Parliamentary committees are somewhat ad hoc teams of elected representatives formed to investigate and advise about various things which are felt to be of interest in running the country, and are formed in a cross-party manner. Ministers are high-ranking members of the ruling party that are put in charge of the various ministries and departments in order to implement that party’s policies.

    So, I guess, broadly speaking, an MP is equivalent to a congressperson or senator, while a Minister is the same as a Secretary? E.g. Minister of Defence = ~Defense Secretary.

    So, a little way to go before these findings make their way into law. The lobbyists could still schmooze a Minister into allowing the homeopathy industry to continue their free rein.

    Edit: Oops, beaten to the draw by Davidlpf.

  14. Well, Phil is watering down the Parliment members and thus making them stronger!

  15. Ad Hominid

    I thought I could make some extra money selling homeophathic plutonium to terrorists- having calculated that the concentration in our local drinking water is low enough to destroy whole planets- but it turned out the terrorists weren’t that gullible.

  16. NewEnglandBob
  17. Can’t we just arrange to have multiply-diluted homeopathic solutions added to the national water supply, and be done with all ailments once and for all? It seems like that could be done quite inexpensively. (But read Stephen King’s “The End of the Whole Mess” to see why this might not be such a good idea.)

    Come to think of it, considering the number of pharmaceuticals that are flushed into waste-water tratment systems every day, waste water that evetually – through evaporation and condensation, or more direct means – finds itself back in the drinking water supply, I suppose most of us are already receiving homeopathically-diluted doses of a huge cocktail of drugs already.

    Regarding treatments that have no efficacy beyond placebos, I am surprised that the disturbing recent Newsweek cover story on antidepressants has generated very little attention.

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/232781

  18. BicycleRepairMan

    I’m totally against this. Homeopathy should be given much more money, except that when they count that money, you mix it with 10 times the amount of worthless paper, then you take 10% of that and mix it with 10x the worthless paper, and so on 30-100 times., and then they can have it. Just think of all that good that money will do then!

  19. A human

    > 2010 may very well be the best year skeptics have ever had, and we’re only two months in!

    I feel like this way of thinking encourages a false dichotomy. Yes, this is good news, but it’s not a victory for only skeptics. It’s a victory for humans.

  20. But the homeopaths will retain the memory of having money, so they will still be rich. Damn.

  21. Suicidal Zebra

    Never underestimate the entrenched nature of government spending, especially on large budget departments such as Health and Defence. Given that they’re more concerned by public opinion than actual measurable outcomes this close to an election they’ll take one look at the 70% satisfaction rate* with Homeopathic woooo and order an immediate doubling of the spending.

    Yes, I’m a cynic and have no confidence in Parliament.

    * http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8524926.stm

  22. Thanny

    [pedantry]Myriad is an adjective, not a noun. So that’s “myriad tests”, not “myriads of tests”.[/pedantry]

    Yeah, sure, language is a fluid, evolving thing. But if someone doesn’t resist change at least a bit, one generation won’t understand the next.

    Just don’t get me started on “enormity”.

  23. Crystal

    I have to say that the comments are about as good as the article. I give you major kudos, Steve Jeffers. Magical purchasing power bestowed by angels was the win of the day.

  24. Levi in NY

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/myriad
    “Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective. As the entries here show, however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it.”

  25. “Myriad” is actually an obsolete word for exactly 10,000, so ‘myriads of tests’ = ‘tens of thousands of tests’.

  26. Going to have to back up syrtis and Levi in NY on the myriad issue. Myriad comes from ancient Greek and is a reflection of a system of large numbers oriented around 104 rather than 103 as we currently do in the West. However, Chinese still uses a myriad rather than a thousand system, thus the word for 10000 is 万 rather than 十千 (which would literally be “ten thousand”) and rather than having the next step go to millions, it goes to 10000000 (亿)…one million is just thought of as a hundred myriad, 百万. See also: Wikipedia.

    Edit: just to follow up for those of you who think the use of the actual Chinese characters is confusing, here are the characters for each of the powers of ten up to a myriad plus a myriad squared:
    一=100=1
    十=101=10
    百=102=100
    千=103=1000
    万=104=10000=1,0000=10,000
    亿=万2=108=100000000=1,0000,0000=100,000,000
    If any of that was made more confusing by including this, ignore the characters altogether…which is what you should also do if you see boxes, question marks, or unicode stand-ins rather than distinguishable characters.

  27. billybob

    I was just about to post this on the forums, I’d read it earlier today, and had some spare time to comment on it.
    Oh well.
    Despite my tardiness, this is good news.

  28. Ron

    Myriad or myriad of does not matter. Like it or not and especially with the internet language IS a democratic process and you might as well get used to that new fact of life.

  29. Mike C.

    Can’t wait until homeopathy is just so much water under the bridge.

  30. Both forms of myriad are acceptable, in the same way that you can say “a dozen” or “dozens of”. Or, to stay on topic, “a mole” or “moles of”.

  31. Charlie Young

    I see the grammar police are out in force today!

  32. jcm

    The puns are back. Yay!

  33. Bunk

    Homeopathic doesn’t sound right. Did you mean homeopathetic?

  34. tacitus

    Homeopaths get taxpayer support in the UK to the tune of £4M per year (and probably more), money which goes to prescriptions and four homeopathic hospitals — hospitals which I assume are incredibly tiny, so that their cures are stronger.

    I bet I’m the only regular reader of this blog who’s actually been inside one of those UK homeopathic hospitals, and I would bet a considerable amount of money that I am the only reader who went in as an in-patient, was treated, and was cured as a direct result of that treatment.

    Utter bunk! I hear you cry. Homeopathy cannot possibly work — and yet I can categorically prove that I did indeed fully recover from my condition as a direct result of being an in-patient of Glasgow’s Homeopathic Hospital (assuming I could get access to the appropriate medical records, of course).

    But before you break out the angry rebuttals, I guess I should add that the treatment I received in the hospital was actually a conventional minor surgical procedure. (Modesty prevents me from going into the details). I don’t know how often it happens these days, but back in the 70s when I was a kid it wasn’t unusual for the NHS to be short of beds for patients. So I’m guessing that the Homeopathic Hospital was the nearest local hospital that had a bed at the time and was equipped with an operating theater. I must have been about eight years old at the time, and I have no recollection of it being any different from a normal hospital ward, except that it was indeed a small place.

    Oh, and for the record, homeopathy is total and utter bunk.

  35. Brian Too

    Re: “…hospitals which I assume are incredibly tiny, so that their cures are stronger.”

    Au contraire, the hospitals should be enormous, but contain only a few (or preferably one) patient(s). The homeopathic rationale being, by diluting the patient you make them stronger!

    Or something.

  36. Gary Ansorge

    I contend we will still have have creationists and homeopaths in the year 31,000. Despite having dismantled all of the moons, asteroids and several small planets to build space habitats.

    Humans evolve SOOooo slowly.

    Sloppy thinking will be with us until we have succeeded in training every child in the scientific method. Until it has become second nature to think about evidence as an essential requirement for thinking about anything.

    Gary 7

  37. Dwatney

    If the UK works anything like the US, this just means that they will reduce the rate of increase in the funding of homeopathy while claiming they are slashing the homeopathy budget.

  38. Christopher Petroni

    Thread over. #21 by feralboy12 wins.

  39. So the UK can defund telescopes instantly, but defunding woo takes years?

  40. James B

    as a Brit I’d just to clarify a little on what this report means t0 those of you not familiar with our system of government:

    This report is the conclusion of an investigation by a -Parliamentary- Committee. This is distinct from a -Government- Committee as it is made up of members of Parliament NOT members of Government (“Parliament” is made up of MPs from all parties that achieved seats in the commons, whereas “Government” refers strictly to the current labour administration).

    What this means is, this Parliamentary Committee hearing (I strongly suggest catching the vid posted above, Dr Goldacre and Prof Ernst doing great work), has evaluated the evidence for and against homeopathy and has reached the position outlined in the article posted above.

    The Parliamentary Committee then submits this judgement to the Government, it is then up to the Government whether or not to do anything about it. The committee’s report is in no way binding, and the Government can choose to completely ignore it if it so wishes. However, this is unlikely as committees are called for a purpose, not just at random.

    So, fingers crossed everyone :) wait for the government’s response to this report, hopefully we will see big changes. The people who I REALLY hope are paying attention are the conservative party as they are likely the next ones to come into power (probably not too far in the future) and therefore the ones most likely to institute any large scale reform on the matter.

    So yes, fingers crossed!

    @Meng Bomin #27

    What makes it even more confusing is that 一 is vocalised as “yī” whereas 亿 is vocalised as “yì”, a small tonal difference between one and one hundred million! Not a mistake you want to make when down at the shops, ahar.

  41. Sreenivas Motupalli

    Would like to share a personal experience I had( or should I say ‘encounter’ ) with homeopathy.
    I live in India, in a city called Hyderabad. My father when he was about 79 years old, had a ‘stiffening’ of the fingers,called, I believe, neuropathy. He has been a diabetic for over 40 years, and has managed it very well with medication and regular exercise, walking. On one of his walks, he met a gentleman( an ex Army Major) who promised immediate relief from this condition and prescribed a Homeopathic medication, which he took and had the promised ‘immediate’ relief. Magic !! in a day or two, the stiffness and pain had just disappeared ! This prompted my mother to take a prescription, from the same gentleman for my nagging lower back niggle. She purchased, this prescription from a prominent store and visited me and wanted to pop the little magic pills in my mouth. I took the pills from her and promised to think about it. I sent the pills to the most reputed, and accredited Pharmaceutical Lab, for analysis, and had the results in a few days. The little white pills had three different kinds of steroids !! My father, brushing this aside, kept treating himself for the incurable irritants of Diabetes like burning feet etc, for a few more months. He fell seriously ill after about six months. Every symptom he had during that episode of illness, could well be attributed to the side effects of Steroids, fluid retention, in the limb extremities, fluid around the lungs. these side effects were definitely exacerbated due to his age, but thankfully, he pulled around in a couple of months. Steroids, cause extreme fluctuations, of blood sugar, and took a while to stabilise. I tried pinning the store down, but, legalities like Sample collection, sapped my energies, in taking it to its logical conclusion of prosecution, but equally frustrating is the temptation of people wanting to resort to Magic cures. It later transpired that a few of these Homeopathic prescriptions for ‘instant relief ‘ contain deliberately added ingredients that can be extremely harmful. I am sure, that the prospect of quick prosecution and strict implementation of rules, might make ‘western’ citizens, better protected, but where there can be Trudeaus, there can be many wanting to make a quick buck, no matter what the cost. This Comment is an attempt to make the general Citizen more aware. BTW Phil, its been an enjoyable few months, since I started following your writings. I seem to check for new entries as soon as I get on the system :-) . May the Force be with you, all through your journeys, though I seem to enjoy the journeys inside your mind more !

  42. Erwin

    feralboy12

    “But the homeopaths will retain the memory of having money, so they will still be rich. Damn.”

    Especially because their brains contain mostly water (OMFSM – they have infinite intelligence)

  43. Erwin

    Some British politicians might be facing a libel suit against them :-P

  44. A semi-serious note:

    Homeopathy is the only legally prescribed Placebo, is it not?
    And Placebo is not only a strong therapeutic effect, it is also a good benchmark for testing other medicines. Doctors should be use homeopathy themselves…

  45. Nige

    I used a homeopathic remedy once, it cured me of my ailment almost instantly. Well…dehydration is an ailment isn’t it?

    As a UK citizen I am glad they have removed the funding, NHS spending should be restricted to scientifically backed medicine. Leave the Woo to the (highly regulated) private practicioners.

    http://www.howdoeshomeopathywork.com/

  46. Geek

    Omer Moussaffi #43

    Homeopathy is the only legally prescribed Placebo, is it not? And Placebo is not only a strong therapeutic effect, it is also a good benchmark for testing other medicines. Doctors should be use homeopathy themselves…

    Users of evidence-based medicine already benefit from the placebo effect: even though the treatments are not placebos, the placebo effect adds to the effect of the treatments. If doctors started giving fake treatments to use the placebo effect on its own, they would lose credibility (and one consequence of that would be to reduce the placebo effect).

    Maybe we could learn from homeopaths how to use emotional manipulation to enhance the placebo effect (but that would be like learning from confidence tricksters how to look honest). If you have 5 minutes to spare, this is interesting: Ben Goldacre’s video on the placebo effect.

  47. Grand Lunar

    Ah, but won’t diluting homeopathy just make it stronger?

    Gotta love James Randi’s speech on the subject when he speaks of just how diluted the stuff really is, especially when he gives the example of how diluted the 1500 solution is (10^1500 power for those playing at home).

    Is homeopathy funded as much in the US?

  48. Markle

    As an American, I’m disappointed. We could point at the UK and say, “look, they spend less per capita on healthcare, yet have better outcomes and patient satisfaction. All the while, they’re wasting money on crap homeopathy and a woo-ey-er version of chiropractic. Explain to me again how our system is more efficient.”

  49. John

    This is blind fundamentalism.
    People must have the liberty to choose their own health care system, today homepathy is discarded to the benefit of the holy monopole held by quemistry pharmaceutic industry. Tommorow will be acupuncture maybe?
    I am astonished you all applause your own loss of free will!
    Take a pill to that!

  50. @Grand Lunar,

    I think you’ve struck on a better funding mechanism for homeopathy. We’ll tell them that we’re applying homeopathy to their funding. You see, we’ve taken their real UK pounds and put them in a container with a ton of Monopoly money. Then we shook the container real hard and poured half of it into another container. We filled that with Monopoly money and shook it again. We kept repeating the process about 30 times or so until their Homeopathic Funding was finished. Sure it may look like a stack of Monopoly money without a single real bill to be seen, but thanks to the principals of Homeopathy, the Monopoly money has magically become worth more than the real money would have been. We’ve actually increased their funding!!! Why should they object? ;-)

  51. I absolutely loved the Daily Mash reporting of this, incuding the line: “Practitioners [of homeopathy] will apply for one penny of the new budget and then be advised to shake it vigorously in their bank account.”

    Beautiful

    http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/health/parliament-emitting-angry-purple-aura%2c-say-homeopaths-201002232496/

  52. rob

    you heard of the Caesar’s last breath calculation? you can do a similar calculation for Caesar’s last piss.

    if you drink a homeopathic remedy, there are more water molecules from Caesar’s last urination than there are molecules of the active ingredient.

    so, if you pay for a homeopathic remedy, you are pissing your money away.

  53. kim

    So there’s this study from M.D. Anderson Hospital finding that four homeopathic cancer treatments were effective, at homeopathic dilutions, against cancer cells. The results were similar to taxol. I’ve no idea whether this study is good science or not. I’ve wondered, though, if modern immunology might someday validate some aspects of the theory of homeopathy. The immune system can respond to small stimuli.

    If you read the early primary literature in homeopathy, you cannot help but be impressed with the clinical acumen of the practitioners, their individualization of therapy, and their willingness to change tactics. They were marvelous doctors. With water!

    Last century Norman Thomas promoted the therapeutic effect of laughter. What is the effect of skillfully repeated doses of a harmless potion and serial evocations of the placebo effect?

    I’m pretty agnostic about homeopathy. Just sowing a few thoughts.

    H/t BF Ignacio.
    ====================================

  54. Geek

    John

    People must have the liberty to choose their own health care system

    This news story is not about banning homeopathy, it’s about government subsidies. Even if the government funding stops, many UK pharmacies will still sell you snake oil if you want it.

    UK readers: Boots sells this stuff but Rowlands don’t. May I suggest shopping in Rowlands rather than Boots to those who have the choice and think Boots shouldn’t be selling fake medicines?

  55. Anthony

    They spent TAXPAYER MONEY on the stuff? WTF?

    I can’t believe that. This should’ve been done decades ago.

  56. rob

    “The immune system can respond to small stimuli.”

    yes–it’s called vaccination…

    the small stimuli is something like micro-grams per dose in a vaccination, and not mega-micro-fractions of moles like homeopathy.

    essentially the homeopathic dose is ZERO.

    based on that i would hazard a guess that the studay from M.D. Anderson Hospital is probably extremely faulty. contains no real results. nada. nothing. zip. zero. zilch.

    any MD’s out there familiar with the study?

  57. @kim,

    Given how small the “drug” dosage winds up being in the homeopathic water, the homeopathic claim of water having a memory and their claim that the smaller the dose, the bigger the protection, you’d be happy to note that your immune system is being protected against fish excretions, caveman bathings and dinosaur saliva. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my dinosaur saliva protection is fading. Time for another dosage.

  58. Charlie Young

    Kim,

    I’m not familiar with the study you refer to, but many initial studies done in vitro show decent results only to show no promise when clinical trials are performed. I have no idea where this study comes from or what stage of research they are at, but there is a good chance that the benefits of the homeopathic treatment may be nul after clinical trials get underway.

  59. Thomas Beck

    Of course, this entire discussion is a total red herring – for it obscures a terrible danger that no one wants to face up to. Perhaps no one has the courage.

    I’m talking, of course, of the clear and present menace that is…Dihydrogen Monoxide!

    http://www.dhmo.org

    Won’t someone please think of the children???

  60. Mark Hansen

    John, on one point you are absolutely correct. People must be free to choose their own form of health care. They must also be told if their preferred form of health care works. Homeopathy doesn’t.

  61. ND

    Thomas Beck,

    Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront because it is so often drowned out but other issues.

    Of course this begs the question, which is more dangerous, Dihydrogen Monoxide or homeopathy?

    What’s the concentration of dhmo in my drinking water I wonder?

  62. Chris

    Whew! Homeopathy isn’t covered under the Canadian health care system. This post had me (slightly) worried for Canada.

    During my searches I came across this link where some people staged a homeopathy OD back in January. Kinda funny:

    http://www.nowpublic.com/world/campaign-group-stage-mass-overdose-homeopathy-protest

  63. felix

    At the budding stage of homeopathy, homeopathic medicine chests were confiscated from the disciples of its founder Dr.Samuel Hahnemann, and they were officially buried in churchyard and cemetries (Read biography of Christian Gottlob Karl Hornburg and Christian
    Friedrick Lang hammer by Richard Haehl). History shows that no fierce opposition was able to dilute homeopathy out of existence. As years went by it only gained more momentum. Let’s see what is going to happen. Be patient

  64. Sgt Skepper

    I’d just like to add to the call that MPs are members of parliament, not ministers, roughly equivalent to congressmen. However, I’d also like to correct NelC. Ministers are not equivalent to secretaries. The UK defence minister is not equivalent to the US secretary of defense, but is a lower level, below the secretary and undersecretary of defence.

    I’ve even bored myself.

  65. sandip

    Have you ever been taken homoeopathic medicine ? The common nature of men is to make comment whatever they know little, you please take any homoeopathic medicine at 200th or 1000th potency for 30 days regularly, if there are no reactions you may proceed……………

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