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SIX months ago I wrote a column for this newspaper attacking the quack medicine called homeopathy.
Now that particular quack medicine is back in the headlines.
Britain’s top homeopath, Linda Wicks, chair of the Society of Homeopaths, is facing calls to resign after being caught out spreading dangerous anti-vaccine propaganda on social media.
Wicks shared a series of petitions which falsely claimed that childhood vaccinations are unsafe, and called for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency — a government quango which licences vaccines — to be disbanded.
Wicks also posted a petition seeking support for disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield who falsely linked the MMR vaccine to autism.
She claimed that the scientific establishment’s rejection of his flawed research was “the greatest lie ever told.”
Two other members of the society’s board of directors are also under pressure to quit, after media revelations that they too had lobbied against childhood vaccinations.
Leading homeopath Francis Treuherz, used his Facebook feed to share a petition describing Wakefield as a “hero” who ought to be “honoured” with the Nobel Peace Prize.
This week Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, launched an outspoken attack on the homeopathy industry, accusing some practitioners of spreading toxic “misinformation” about vaccines.
Stevens wrote to the Professional Standards Authority, a medical watchdog, urging it to delist the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) from its register of recognised organisations.
Homeopathic cures funded by the NHS were banned completely in 2017.
The SoH is the professional body of 1,000 registered homeopaths.
Its role is imposing a code of conduct and setting educational standards, yet of particular concern is the SoH’s position on so-called CEASE therapy.
This stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression and it falsely implies that there is a cure for autism and homeopaths have that cure.
I’ve never had any time for this particular form of quack medicine and never more than now when many homeopathic so-called doctors are offering to cure autism.
Parents of autistic children understand that this isn’t a disease to be cured but a condition making children different but not ill.
Unproven treatments for autism are all too often promoted hand-in-hand with the disproven allegation that traditional vaccines cause the disorder.
A mealy-mouthed position statement on the SoH website says members may refer to CEASE in their marketing but must not tell patients they are able to cure autism.
When I wrote my Morning Star article earlier this year the Professional Standards Authority had just very controversially renewed the society’s accreditation, despite many of us pointing out that its rules are not sufficiently strict to prevent members touting cures for autism.
Stevens says: “Anything that gives homeopathy a veneer of credibility risks chancers being able to con more people into parting with their hard-earned cash in return for bogus treatments which at best do nothing, and at worst can be potentially dangerous.
“…homeopathy is no replacement for rigorously tried and tested medical treatments delivered or prescribed by properly qualified professionals, and by stopping people seeking expert help, misinformation and ineffective remedies pose a significant risk to people’s health.”
He also pointed out that both the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), take the position that homeopathic remedies are not scientifically valid.
I had always based my opinion of homeopathy on numerous scientific articles and reports, not least a 2010 House of Commons science and technology committee report.
It said that the principles on which homeopathy is based are “scientifically implausible” and that in medical trials homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos or dummy treatments.
Homeopathy is based on a series of ideas developed in the 1790s by German doctor Samuel Hahnemann.
His central principle of treatment is that like cures like — that a substance that causes certain symptoms can also help to relieve or even remove those symptoms.
Hahnemann used really heavy dilution of the supposedly health giving substances into a mixture of alcohol and distilled water, dilutions sometimes by up to a trillion to one.
Some homeopaths believe that even after such ultra-dilutions the original substance leaves an “imprint” of itself on the water.
Some homeopathy practitioners even believe counterintuitively that the more a substance is diluted in this way, the greater is its power to treat symptoms.
Many homeopathic remedies are diluted to such an extent that it’s unlikely there’s a single molecule of the original substance remaining in the final remedy.
In cases like these, homeopathic remedies consist of nothing but distilled water.
The healing substances are often chosen from something that would in stronger doses cause the symptoms complained of.
This echoes the basis of the homeopathic principle that like cures like.
The final mumbo jumbo of Hahnemann’s technique was “succussion,” the vigorous shaking of the diluted preparation and even banging the vessel it was being mixed in on a hard surface.
The good doctor even invented another new word to describe this mixing process, which he claimed greatly increased the potency of his potions. He called this potentisation.
Perhaps the most outlandish claim for homeopathy came from a Canadian practitioner, Dr Anke Zimmermann, who claims she cured a four-year-old boy named as Jonah of extreme aggression with a homeopathic remedy using rabid dog saliva.
The ideas that underpin homeopathy aren’t accepted by any branch of mainstream science, and aren’t consistent with long-accepted principles on the way the physical world works.
Amazingly there’s no legal regulation of homeopathic practitioners in Britain. Anyone can practise as a homeopath, even if they have absolutely no qualifications or experience.
So why has this particular branch of quack medicine remained so popular for so long? Simply because it has long enjoyed the enthusiastic support of our royal family.
The late Queen Mother, her daughter our present Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and many other royal hangers-on have all sung the praises of homeopathic so-called medicine.
The Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital was established in 1849.
King George VI allowed it to add “royal” to its name in 1948 when it joined the NHS.
Prince Charles, as you might expect, is one of its loudest champions.
Today it is the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine and is no longer allowed to offers NHS-funded homeopathic treatments.
What worries me most, however, is when homeopaths claim they can prevent malaria or other diseases. There’s no evidence to support this and no scientifically plausible way that homeopathy can prevent diseases. This is both irresponsible and dangerous.
If people want to use unscientific alternative medicines that is up to them, as long of course that they don’t involve killing and grinding up the body parts of tigers, rhinoceros or other rare and threatened species.
But if homeopaths claim to cure autism and encourage parents not to immunise their children they have gone too far and need to be thrown out of the world of medicine.
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