Belfast Telegraph

Homeopathy? We might as well let mum kiss it better

By Philip Hensher

When I was very little — and you too, I dare say — sometimes I would fall over when running in the garden, in the local woods, or in the street.

Usually, you run to your mother, don't you? And if you'd grazed yourself, or weren't actually streaming with blood from an open wound, she would say, “Oh dear, I'll kiss it better.” And the odd thing is that a kiss from your mother, when you're three or four, does seem to make it better.

I don't suppose anyone has ever doubted the efficacy of this age-old treatment. On the other hand, no one has yet asked the Government for millions of pounds to set up ‘Kiss It Better’ hospitals, with kindly mothers waiting for patients to present themselves for a hug and a kiss.

I don't say it wouldn't work. On the other hand, it is probably not something the Government would consider funding.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology has been examining the claims of homeopathy. If you were wondering what the remit of a select committee was to look into alternative medicine, the answer is simple.

Public money went into the supply of homeopathy to NHS patients to the tune of £12m between 2005 and 2008. There are four NHS homeopathic ‘hospitals’ each funded to hand out placebos to ill people.

I say ‘placebos’ because there is no scientific evidence that homeopathy works. The remedies are diluted to the point that there is not one single molecule of the original material left in the medicine. A couple of weekends ago, anti-homeopathy campaigners carried out a mass overdose, with roughly the same results you would expect if they took 60 sugar tablets — none whatsoever. That is because they took 60 sugar tablets.

Homeopaths are sincere people, who believe in their medicine as working beyond the well-documented placebo effect. On the other hand, where a clinical trial has succeeded in demonstrating the distinction between a homeopathic remedy and a placebo, the findings have proved impossible to replicate. We have all heard anecdotes about the success of homeopathy in particular cases. But science just can't demonstrate a consistent effect. And the anecdotes you don't hear are those in which homeopathy persuaded people to abandon conventional medicine to catastrophic effect. A homeopathic couple in Australia were jailed in 2009 for failing to seek proper medical help for their baby, who died.

Barely less reprehensible are those people trying to divert funds from proper emergency healthcare after the earthquake in Haiti to useless homeopathic remedies.

The select committee is expected to recommend Government funding for homeopathy should cease. Healthcare in the UK is often described as facing “difficult choices”. Here is one that ought to be an easy one — and the Government ought to take the recommendation without hesitation.

Those millions of pounds deserve a better healthcare destination than packets of sugar tablets and the adult equivalent of your mother kissing it better.

Belfast Telegraph


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