Does the Socialist Health Association support Homeopathy?

6th September, 2012 10:30 am

It’s been almost three years since I last posted on LabourList and it was always going to take something that truly incensed me before I considered writing a new post. Today I found such an impetus.

One of the biggest talking points of Tuesday’s Cabinet reshuffle was the move of Jeremy Hunt from DCMS to Health. This move was criticised not just for his performance in his previous role, but also for his backing of Homeopathy as a legitimate treatment modality. Given some of the other rather ludicrous appointments this simply appeared to be consistent with an out of touch government. What was a rather unpleasant and unexpected surprise however was that the Socialist Health Association (SHA) appear to have come out in support of Jeremy Hunt’s views.

On a facebook post yesterday the Official SHA account stated “Homeopathy does no harm and its cheap. NHS wastes money in much worse ways”.

I could spend this entire Blog post debunking and refuting the claims of homeopathy but this has already been done. From those commentating in both right and left wing publications there is a general consensus that Homeopathy can be harmful and detrimental to a patients care. I was pleased to see that there are already many replies contesting this, but this remains a problem for those of us in the party. Not a single Labour Party Conference goes by without someone suggesting to me that a rival healthcare group should be set up. However the SHA remains the only Healthcare interest group affiliated to the Labour Party and as such it’s membership could be portrayed as reflecting the feelings and opinions of the party as a whole and its attitudes on healthcare in particular.

I believe it is therefore important that the SHA comes out today and clarifies the following:

  1. Is it official SHA policy to support Homeopathy?
  2. If not, was this posted by an individual reflecting their own views and not the organisations?
  3. What is the official SHA position on Homeopathy?
  4. If it is official SHA policy to support Homeopathy, can they supply evidence of systematic reviews of published trials that support their stance?

If it is official SHA policy to support Homeopathy without an evidence base then we should begin to think quite seriously about their affiliated status.

It’s bad enough to have a Conservative Secretary of State for Health that supports an utterly farcical and unsubstantiated form of treatment for patients but we are in no position to hold him to account unless our own Labour family is united. To have our own affiliated organisations support this position requires an immediate and decisive response, so that this issue does not distract us from our fight to ensure that we have a world class National Health Service.

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  • I don’t know what the answer is. I’m a member of the Socialist Health Asssociation, and indeed latterly I’ve been blogging for them. I’ll ask Martin Rathfelder, whom I know well, Director of SHA, what the answer might be. It’d be interesting given Hunt’s reported enthusiasm of it. Nice article by the way,  Amanjit.

  • markfergusonuk

    Martin will be responding to this later today
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

    • Thanks Mark. He seemed pretty positive when I bunged it on my FB wall, and he responded quite quickly.

  • ColinAdkins

    I am not a clinician but all what I have read is that homeopathy’s only benefit is as a placebo. This is not sufficent in my view to justify the use of finite resources of the NHS on this ‘treatment’. 

  • Bang on.

    And while I have no illusions whatsoever about the NHS and its failings I would be hard put to think of any worse waste of money than systematically lying to ill people about the miraculous curative powers of coloured water.

    And it’s also worth noting that along with 71 other Labour, 88 Conservative and 40 Lib Dem MPs, our own health spokesperson Diane Abbott also signed the very same imbecilic 2007 EDM welcoming homeopathy’s contribution to the NHS that was supported by Hunt.

    So although Diane is of course a law unto herself I am not sure that this ‘Tory health secretary who believes in homeopathy’ is a valid angle of attack as long as we have so many self-declared believers in magic in our own party.

  • Brumanuensis

    I hope the SHA have a good explanation for this.

  • I hadn’t intended to come back to this issue, but I note Martin has said ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper’ which is a phrase from one of the books I dislike the most, Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop”?

    I remember having to analyse the evidence base for the Alzheimer Society once-upon-a-time

    My first degree at Cambridge, was in medicine, and my PhD also done there was in neuropsychopharmacology. I do not know of any doctors in the NHS who has ever recommended a homeopathic intervention. To be honest, I’d be very surprised if they did, as it’s not ever lectured in the six year degree, does not constitute any part of the postgraduate curriculum, and is not part of general training in the foundation years.

    I tried to look up this afternoon what the Cochrane Colllaboration had done on this, but I was left none-the-wiser. Medicine has always had its fair share of controversies, e.g. whether exposure to cannabis can predispose vulnerable adults to develop schizophrenia. Some debates are worth entering more than others –  I feel clarification of homeopathy might be one, but personally I would like to see more legislative energy put into revising the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971).

    The GMC does not general guidance on homeopathy to my knowledge. My personal first instinct is that it would be unwise for the SHA to have a policy on homeopathy at all – but the issue of whether it does any harm does necessitate scrutiny, because of the prime importance of ‘primum non nocere’ in medical ethics – “at first do no harm”. Producing a reliable view on homeopathy would require careful assessment of all the contemporaneous medical evidence, which few people have done recently, and if anything it should of course be homeopathy ‘in the dock’ not the SHA. It clearly would be unacceptable if an unproven intervention were recommended by a physician (which doesn’t work), ahead of a proven one (which does in fact work).

    Will be interested to follow progress on this thread. Excellent bringing it up in the first place.

    This is an entirely personal comment by me, and not related to Labour List or the SHA.

  • The Socialist Health Association is a membership organisation and our policies are decided by our members.  In the Charter for Health which we published in 1984 we
    said ” The beginning of alternatives to orthodox medicine are available
    on the NHS: some GP and Rheumatologists are learning osteopathic
    manipulations, and Homeopathy has always been available, though
    sparsely….All of these elements of choice can, and should be

    We haven’t discussed homeopathy
    in the 30 years since that was published.  Now we might change the
    emphasis a bit.  The theory behind homeopathy is utter baloney, and the
    evidence of effectiveness for some other alternative therapies such as acupunture is  better  

    We are of course in favour of evidence based medicine .
    But medicine is not only a science. There is much less good evidence to
    support common medical practice than most people imagine.
     Complementary medicine can be very helpful to people for whom
    conventional medicine has nothing to offer. The NHS does pay for some
    complementary and alternative medicine, mostly for people who are
    terminally ill, or have severe and enduring mental illness. 
    Nobody gets homeopathy on the NHS when evidence based treatment is available. We think this
    is defensible.

    What I said which has upset Dr Jhund was my very
    guarded defend of homeopathy.  “Homeopathy does no harm and it’s cheap.
    NHS wastes money in much worse ways.”  I don’t find the arguments that
    homeopathy as practised in the NHS does harm convincing.
    All the arguments against homeopathy apply with equal, indeed greater,
    force against religion in all its forms. Every hospital has a chaplain .
    Often a team of chaplains. The cost to the NHS is several orders of magnitude
    greater and the damage done by religion is much greater than any done by
    homeopathy.  Large numbers of patients visit doctors
    and hospitals daily and  repeatedly with symptoms which are medically
    unexplained.  They are often convinced that they are seriously
    ill.  Their doctors generally think that their problems are primarily
    psychological, but they are often sent to hospital for tests and to
    visit consultants in order to exclude any possibility of organic
    disease.  This process reinforces their belief in their illness which is
    so mysterious that doctors cannot explain it.  That seems a good deal
    more damaging than a bit of water and mumbo-jumbo.A lot of fuss
    is made of the cost of the homeopathic hospitals, but it seems to have
    escaped the notice of their critics that they don’t contain any beds.
     Only the memory of beds.

    • Brumanuensis

      With respect, the chaplaincy argument is a bit of a ‘whataboutist’ sort of argument. Personally, as a supporter of the National Secular Society, I think chaplains ought to be done away with too, but regardless of this, that doesn’t act as a defence of the continuing provision of homeopathy, which costs the NHS between 4 and 10 million pounds a year. Small beer in the context of the health budget, but money nonetheless. 

      Homeopathy is harmful because it encourages people to believe in superstitious nonsense – to condense the issue somewhat. Although you, thankfully, agree that homeopathy is nonsense, you do use the words ‘complementary medicine’ to describe it. Homeopathy isn’t even medicine and it’s not complementary. It’s quackery and should be labelled as such. People who are encouraged, even indirectly, to see this form of medical charlatanism as having some legitimacy, are liable to start using other forms of medically-dubious treatments. It fosters a sense of suspicion – rather than healthy scepticism – towards the scientific method and medical science.

      Now if patients are being over-prescribed or have psychosomatic illnesses, then we should be encouraging doctors to avoid needless referrals – with appropriate safeguards. Substituting another form of mystery is unhelpful. 

      I did like your ‘memory of the beds’ reference though.

  • David Brede

    As my wife and son have benefited from Homeopathy I am with the SHA in supporting this form of treatment.

    • Brumanuensis

      David, without asking you to divulge anything too personal regarding your family’s treatment, what precisely leads you to believe that they benefited from homeopathy?

  • PatrickFrench

    Homeopathy may be cheap and safe but that’s really not the point.
    In my two decades working as a consultant in the NHS there has never been a time when access to care and the range of care available has been under such relentless attack. Labour must adopt a clear and consistent strategy to challenge this.  A committment for the NHS to provide access to treatment and care that has been supported by robust evidence would be an important start.
    The current and increasing restrictions in access to contraception, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and specialist referral can all be effectively challenged by citing eveidence. Homeopathy cannot be supported in this way.
    I am a member of the Socialist Health Association and I am sure there are many other members of the SHA who share these views.

  • i_bid

    Great article, always disappointed when seeing otherwise sensible socialists support this rubbish. 

  • williamtheconker

    What do you think about Socialist Christians?
    Come on Amanjit – let’s hear the vituperation rant for the Baptists and chapels from the Welsh Valleys, the non-conformists and other working class groups who helped to establish the Labour Party as the voice of working people and who saw it as a reflection of Christian values – do you remember who they are? Brown and Blair and their mates didn’t.

  • Pingback: Socialism and homeopathy: what’s the quack? | Left Futures()

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