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21 September 2007
Channel 4 News reported on the pressure to save money by stopping NHS funding for “unproven and disproved treatments”.

Watch the video.

The report started badly when the journalist, Victoria Macdonald, said that the bottles of homeopathic pills contained “only natural ingredients”.

Wrong

They contain NO ingredients. That is just as well perhaps, when you recall that natural ingredients in homeopathic pills include things like polonium. In the Nature newsblog that followed my piece about BSc degrees in anti-science, I responded

“Well CAM is a bit like university management. Don’t try to satirise it, because the next thing you know the satire has come true.

There is even a whole book about homeopathic polonium, and you can by not only polonium, but also holmium, dysprosium, europium, gadolinium, Terbium, Thulium (this is beginning to sound like Tom Lehrer), And don’t forget Excrementum caninum (yes, you got it, dog shit). With the 3C “potency” of the latter you might even get a few molecules of it. All this at http://www.archibel.com/homeopathy/synthesis/newremedies/

And don’t forget your homeopathic bioterrorism protection kit.”

The thrust of the report was to suggest that our attempts to improve NHS treatment were some sort of Big Pharma funded conspiracy to suppress those nice homeopaths and so kill old ladies whose lives depended on taking medicines that contain no medicine.

Peter Fisher sounded a bit desperate in his attempts to associate me and my colleagues with the defence of GM foods, a topic on which, as far as I know, none of us uttered a word in public.

Sorry, Dr Fisher, but there is no conspiracy, and no involvement of Big Pharma. Just a disparate bunch of doctors and scientists who decided it was time to do something about the spending of scarce NHS money being spent on new age nonsense. It really is that simple.

I’m always a bit amused when people who make a lot of money from alternative medicine accuse me of representing some vested interest. The media ‘nutritional therapist’, Patrick Holford, said, in the British Medical Journal

“I notice that Professor David Colquhoun has so far not felt it relevant to mention his own competing interests and financial involvements with the pharmaceutical industry “

To which my reply was

” Oh dear, Patrick Holford really should check before saying things like “I notice that Professor David Colquhoun has so far not felt it relevant to mention his own competing interests and financial involvements with the pharmaceutical industry”. Unlike Holford, when I said “no competing interests”, I meant it. My research has never been funded by the drug industry, but always by the Medical Research Council or by the Wellcome Trust. Neither have I accepted hospitality or travel to conferences from them. That is because I would never want to run the risk of judgements being clouded by money. The only time I have ever taken money from industry is in the form of modest fees that I got for giving a series of lectures on the basic mathematical principles of drug-receptor interaction, a few years ago.”

I spend a lot of my spare time, and a bit of my own money, in an attempt to bring some sense into the arguments. The alternative medicine gurus make their livings (in some cases large fortunes) out of their wares.

So who has the vested interest?

Sorry Dr Fisher, but there is no conspiracy. Tim Crayford (Association of Directors of Public Health), put the matter very simply in the interview.

It is more to do with a point of principle. There are very many really effective treatments that the NHS can’t currently afford to provide. And we should we not be ensuring that the limited resources we’ve got in the NHS go to the things that really work well, and are going to save lives”

That is all there is to it.

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