NHS Liverpool homeopathy consultation

A supporter of NHS homeopathy gives his personal account of the public meeting in Liverpool that was part of the local CCG’s consultation on the future of the city’s NHS homeopathy service.

The Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) public meeting to discuss the future of the city’s NHS homeopathy service took place at the Quaker Meeting House on 4th December.  I was present with 40 or so other attendees including three representatives from the CCG. We were fortunate to have the clinical lead from the Liverpool NHS homeopathy service, consultant Dr Hugh Nielsen and GP/homeopath Dr Sue de Lacy, along with retired consultant Dr Amitav Ghosh. Also attending were three representatives of the Good Thinking Society, who also belong to the Merseyside Skeptics Society.

The meeting began with one of the CCG representatives using a Powerpoint presentation to put forward the argument that homeopathy was just the placebo effect, underpinned by the lengthy consultation that homeopathic doctors have with their patients.  To support this view she quoted in some detail the negative findings from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report into homeopathy. From the outset it was fairly apparent to everyone in the room that the meeting was loaded in favour of the CCG’s preferred option to stop funding the service.

It was then suggested all the participants form small discussion groups and provide feedback to the CCG committee.  I must admit it felt a bit like being back at school.

At this point all hell broke out! Firstly, the chairman of the Northwest Friends of Homeopathy, John Cook, very loudly but eloquently, boomed that the whole meeting was just a paper exercise to keep everyone “under the thumb”. He demanded to know why we should all be put into small groups around tables, when we should be having a democratic and open forum where everyone present could have their say and have the opportunity to put the case for homeopathy if they so wished. He went on to say the CCG had no right to publish in the local press their preferred option of closing Liverpool’s NHS homeopathy service, and that this amounted to a fait accompli which was in breach of the democratic process.

The three CCG representatives were visibly surprised by the strong feelings in the room, for by this time many patients were loudly voicing their disdain for the CCG’s consultation procedure. Then two ladies, both former cancer patients, expressed how their lives had been extended for over ten years thanks to the regular treatment they received from the NHS homeopathy service, and how without homeopathy they doubted whether they would be alive today. After some deliberation the CCG reluctantly agreed to a 50/50 compromise, where half the time would be dedicated to an open forum, and the other half to around the table discussions and feedback.

The meeting proceeded with the open forum. First to speak was Dr Hugh Nielson who reminded the audience that when the House of Commons Science and Technology report was published many MPs dismissed it on the grounds that it was biased. He went on to quote figures showing how widely homeopathy is used in several European countries and in India. He also presented scientific evidence supporting homeopathy as an effective treatment beyond placebo.  At this point the sceptic group made what I can only describe as sixth form schoolboy comments and became somewhat disruptive. However, those indomitable Liverpool ladies who had benefited from NHS homeopathic treatment quickly responded with an effective verbal broadside!

Dr Sue de Lacy addressed the meeting from a GP’s perspective and gave examples of illnesses she had seen respond to homeopathic treatment, often after conventional treatment had failed. The floor was then opened for discussion and we heard several moving testimonies from patients with chronic illnesses who had benefited from NHS homeopathy. One young man said he was originally a sceptic himself, but had completely changed his mind after having been treated with homeopathy in recent years.

When I had the opportunity to speak, I challenged the sceptics to explain the positive results from a double-blind trial in the homeopathic treatment of mastitis in cattle.  I also pointed out that if the so-called “extended consultation” caused a placebo effect, how could this explain the results in the cattle trial?  One of the sceptics responded by more or less suggesting that the positive effect in cattle trials was somehow due to the farmer’s influence, which is of course ridiculous when speaking about a whole herd of animals.

I then asked the sceptics how they could explain in scientific terms the positive effects of counselling and psychotherapy. They were noticeably stumped! I followed this up by asking why homeopathy was being singled out, when the CCG offers many far more expensive treatments that too had an inconclusive evidence base. Again they were stumped!

The CCG representatives left the meeting in no doubt of how strong patient support is for the NHS Liverpool homeopathy service. The CCG consultation continues until 22nd December. Liverpool CCG is seeking the views of patients, the public and others with an interest in homeopathy on the future of the service in the city. You can take part in the consultation by visiting this Liverpool CCG link.

Ken Ward-Atherton

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