Science | Comment – Should the NHS fund alternative medicine?
Firstly, I want to point out what I mean by alternative medicine. The definition of it is: any practice that is put forward as having the healing effects of medicine but is not based on evidence gathered using the scientific method. Examples include but are not exclusive to: Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Ayurvedic Medicine, Naturopathy and many more. You could quite feasibly make up your own brand of alternative medicine tomorrow if you chose to.
I want to illustrate a few undeniable facts to set the scene for alternative medicine; Homeopathy normally comes in for the largest amount of criticism due in part to the levels of dilutions involved. Homeopathy is the concept that like cures like and that this effect becomes stronger at a greater dilution, it relies on the as of yet unproven belief that water has memory. A standard homeopathic remedy is 30C; this is an enormous level of dilution and needs to be given some context. If I was to drop a grain of salt into a full bath it would not be dilute enough, perhaps a pond or a lake? No not dilute enough, in fact the entire volume of water on our planet wouldn’t even cover it.
There is not an atom of active ingredient in any standard homeopathic remedies, just the ‘memory’ of one. If you are still not convinced, then ask yourself why and how do homeopathic remedies not have memory for the gallons of sewage they have passed through as well as the intended ‘medicine’?
What’s the harm though of alternative medicine if it is an effective placebo? A great deal is the short answer. Alternative medicine is often used in the place of conventional medicine and not alongside it as in complementary medicine. Recent examples of this have been the promotion of homeopathic anti-malarial kits in place of genuine anti-malarial medication. Individuals die as a result of this promotion and the NHS endorsement of pseudo science is a very dangerous development for patient’s health.
Another fundamental problem with alternative medicine is the lack of regulation, only two branches have their own governing body and the treatments they preach do not have to undergo any testing. This means side effects are unknown; furthermore it’s not even tested to see if it actually works. Wasting NHS resources on anecdotal evidence is unwise and a public injustice. Supporting this field with public money takes funding away from real medicine; that can be genuinely proven to work. It is only a very minor proportion of the NHS budget but takes money away from life saving treatments such as Herceptin for breast cancer patients. Giving it credibility will only fuel the market of deception it occupies and drain time and resources from interventions that may enhance healthcare in the future.
There is no place within the hierarchy of our healthcare service for ardent supporters of alternative medicine such as HRH Prince of Wales or our very own Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt. If alternative medicine works for you then that is brilliant. But you should not expect the taxpayers to foot the bill for something that cannot be proven and can be actively disproven to be effective. If you are in dispute of this fact then you are also in dispute of the effectiveness of any modern medicine as they undergo the same process of evaluation.
Not enough people with common sense or basic scientific knowledge are willing to stand up against this tyranny of ignorance, but hopefully with education this will change.