‘Medical apartheid’

A group of UK doctors has heavily criticised the NHS for investing in alternative medicines. I just heard the head of some UK homeopathic society describe this as ‘medical apartheid’. He trotted out the usual claim that homeopathy has plenty of evidence to support it, and that adherents to the ‘biomedical model’ will always ignore other treatments. As far as I can tell, the ‘biomedical model’ is one of those phrases only used by practitioners of alternative medicine, much like ‘Darwinism’ is only used by creationists. This claim about the evidence behind homeopathy is demonstrably false. It’s like Ben Goldacre says:

I’m talking about huge meta-analyses, summing together vast numbers of little trials, adding all the numbers up, and finding that overall, homeopathy is no better than placebo. That’s not absence of evidence that it works. That’s positive evidence that homeopathy does not work better than placebo.

Before we go any further, I have two special messages for the alternative therapists reading this: firstly, please, if you’re going to write in to the letters page, alluding triumphantly to some single obscure positive homeopathy study, can you at least explain why this string of huge meta-analyses are not valid? It’s getting a bit embarrassing the way you all just pretend they don’t exist. The British Homeopathic Association doesn’t even list them – the biggest, most definitive studies on homeopathy – in its list of research on homeopathy at Trusthomeopathy.org .

And secondly, please, a plea on behalf of the state: it was very expensive to do all these trials, and if you make us do that for every little notion you concoct from your imagination, you will bring the country to its knees. If that was the plan all along then I salute you.

See here, too. The Department of Health isn’t terribly helpful:

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health (DoH) said it was up to clinicians and trusts to decide on the best treatment for a patient.

“We know it is important that as more people turn to these therapies a solid evidence base is developed,” she said.

“Patients rightly expect to have clear information about the range of treatments that are available to them, including complementary therapies.”

No, people have a right to clear information about what’s going to make them better. If I decide that monkey brains are the great cure for all illness, and set up my own British Monkey Brain Association, under the above criteria I could demand that the NHS suggest this as a complementary therapy. You have to go with what works, not whatever’s available.

Nobody’s ignoring evidence. There’s no medical apartheid. It’s just trying to make people better, using anything that works.