From the Hampstead and Highgate Express, 18 March 2010 (Story by Tan Parsons)
A woman who has sufered from ME for 18 years has made an impassioned plea to NHS bosses not to cut funding for the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital.
Elisabeth Alexander-MacIsaac, 64, of Gloucester Road, Primrose Hill, has been treated at the hospital for the last six years.
But she is now worried about its future following a damning report on homeopathic medicine published by the government’s science and technology committee in February.
Former psychotherapist Ms Alexander-MacIsaac developed the debilitating condition after contracting meningitis.
Today she uses a stick to help her walk but says that it is solely down to the hospital that she has retained her self-respect and autonomy in spit of her illness.
She said: “I dread to think what would happen to patients like me if the hospital lost its funding.
“I think we would be very much at the mercy of a system that does no research into ME.
“Normal GPs are unable to treat ME successfully, but the homeopathic hospital is a different medical world altogether.”
The hospital, located in Great Ormond Street and part of the University College Lobdon Hospital Trust, currently has a contract with both Camden and Islington primary care trusts and has 30,000 outpatient appointments a year.
Patients and staff at the hospital are fearful for its future given the report and the current financial difficulties facing the NHS.
During her care, Ms Alexander-Isaac has received acupuncture and also natural remedies as treatment for ME, which she says has made it much easier for her to rest without feeling pain.
Liz Wise, acting chief executive of NHS Camden, said complementary medicine was part of an ongoing reivew of the £500million health services it commissions. She said: “An essential part of that review will be to seek the views and opinions of service users and wider Camden stakeholders.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the welcomes the scienmce and technology committee’s report on homeopathy and would give it full consideration, promising to provide a response within two months.
She added” “The evidence base on homeopathy has been subject to differing interpretations. The department expects local clinicians to make decisions on what is best for their patients taking account of safety, evidence of clinical and cost-effectiveness (where it exists) and the availability of suitably regulated/qualified practitioners.”
The Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology – a parliamentary select committee, not a government committee as stated in the ‘Ham & High’ report – published its latest “Evidence Check” on Homeopathy on 22 February 2010. Among measures called for were for the NHS to stop funding homeopathy services and an end to product labelling that is able to make medical claims without evidence of efficiacy.
The Committee concurred with the Government that the evidence base shows that homeopathy is not efficacious (that is, it does not work beyond the placebo effect) and that explanations for why homeopathy would work are scientifically implausible.
Committee chairman Phil Willis MP commented:
“This was a challenging inquiry which provoked strong reactions. We were seeking to determine whether the Government’s policies on homeopathy are evidence based on current evidence. They are not.
“It sets an unfortunate precedent for the Department of Health to consider that the existence of a community which believes that homeopathy works is ‘evidence’ enough to continue spending public money on it. This also sends out a confused message, and has potentially harmful consequences. We await the Government’s response to our report with interest.”
It took evidence from the following witnesses:
Monday 30 November 2009
Mr Mike O’Brien QC MP, Minister for Health Services, Department of Health;
Professor David Harper CBE, Director General, Health Improvement and Protection, and Chief Scientist, Department of Health;
Professor Kent Woods, Chief Executive, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
Wednesday 25 November 2009
Professor Jayne Lawrence, Chief Scientific Adviser, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain;
Robert Wilson, Chairman, British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers;
Paul Bennett, Professional Standards Director, Boots;
Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science;
Dr Ben Goldacre, Journalist.
Dr Peter Fisher, Director of Research, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital;
Professor Edzard Ernst, Director, Complementary Medicine Group, Peninsula Medical School;
Dr James Thallon, Medical Director, NHS West Kent;
Dr Robert Mathie, Research Development Adviser, British Homeopathic Association.
• If you would like to express an opinion about whether homeopathy should continue to be made available on the NHS, use the ‘MEA Quick Survey’ tool on our home page.