A rescue remedy that I just can’t swallow

The House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee have recently finished taking evidence on its inquiry into Alternative Medicine.

Perhaps the most notable outcome of the oral evidence sessions was the ever-increasing acceptance that homeopathic remedies – on which the NHS’s four homeopathic hospitals spend £10million per year – are nothing more than placebos. A senior representative from Boots testified to the Committee that “a large number of our customers actually do believe [homeopathic remedies] are efficacious”. The use of the word “actually” is a virtual admission that there’s nothing of value in the snake oil!

The rigorous double-blind tests that pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines undergo seem not to apply to homeopathic remedies. Presumably this is because it’s either widely perceived that natural compounds cannot harm (er… isn’t arsenic natural?) and/or that they have such little effect on the human body that they require no such scrutiny. Yet while natural remedies are easily available on the shelves at our chemists, we are denied vaccines that have been tested rigorously enough to be widely available in other countries, sometimes because of the cost to the state. And this is despite compelling evidence that manmade drugs and vaccines work. Whither smallpox, typhoid and cholera?

So why should such a massively profitable industry be allowed to get away with peddling fraud? I guess the answer is in the question: rather than being a cost to the state, it generates income. To be fair, the remedies may have a placebo or therapeutic effect that genuinely makes people feel better, but are we really happy to rely upon a placebo when the alternative could be a drug proven to deal with the medical problem we suffer?

What we should be doing is educating people to make the right choices from informed positions. The risk with homeopathy is that we deny ourselves and our children remedies that work, simply for the sake of a flawed notion that Mother Nature can cure our ills.

So, here’s a chance for Government to show real leadership and courage: the findings can recommend dropping funding and endorsement of homeopathic remedies unless properly tested. For homeopathic supporters, it would be a bitter but overdue pill to swallow. I suspect they ought not to worry – we’ll probably just be handed a placebo.

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