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George Lewith’s private practice. Another case study.

February 18th, 2011 · 25 Comments

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Professor George Lewith is perhaps the most prominent advocate of alternative medicine within quackademia, at least in Russell Group University. He claims to be a member of “The Complementary and Integrated Medicine Research Unit is within the School of Medicine at the University of Southampton.”.

The URL for this unit is actually http://www.cam-research-group.co.uk/. Strangely, though, a search of Southampton University’s own web site for “Complementary and Integrated Medicine Research Unit” yields very little information about this unit.

But Lewith does not spend all of his time on his academic duties. He also spends time in London at his private practice, at the Centre for Complementary and Integrated Medicine. This practice, I discovered in 2006, was selling to patients that well known method for misdiagnosing food intolerance, the Vega test. It was doing so despite the fact that Lewith himself had written a paper that concluded that the Vega machine does not work, The paper was in the British Medical Journal, 2001;322:131-4. It concludes “Electrodermal testing cannot be used to diagnose environmental allergies". This history is recorded in Lewith’s private clinic has curious standards.

Dr Lewith was in the news again recently when he published a paper that showed (yet again) that homeopathic pills work no better than placebo. No surprise there of course. The paper has been described here, in Despite the spin, Lewith’s paper surely signals the end of homeopathy (again).

So we can congratulate Lewith for being one of the few members of the magic-medicine community to have published papers of reasonable quality that show that neither homeopathy nor the Vega test work. In fact there was nothing novel in the conclusions about the Vega machine. It has been debunked again and again.

The BBC’s Inside Out programme in 2003 found that when the Vega test was taken in three different branches of Holland and Barrett, the results were quite different every time. The reporter was advised to by a total of 20 different supplements, but got different advice from every store.

In 2006, the test was destroyed again in, of all places, the Daily Mail which published ‘The great allergy con‘.

In 2011, BBC’s Watchdog programme looked again at food intolerance tests, with results as crazy as before. Holland & Barrett said "In light of this report, however, we have instructed The UK Health Partnership to investigate the findings and review their current training practices". That’s odd, because in 2001 they had said "”In light of the issues raised, we are already carrying out a full review of the services that HSL provide.” So not much progress there.

What is rather more surprising is to find that Dr Lewith, having himself shown that neither the Vega test nor homeopathy work, continues to sell both to patients in his private practice.

I recently heard from a young student, Lettie Heywood, abour her experiences when she went to Prof Lewith’s private practice. If you want to read her letter in full, download the pdf. Some quotations from it suffice to tell the tale.

"I had suffered from CFS/ME for nearly 8 years when on March 18th 2009 I had my  first appointment with doctor Lewith"

"We talked for 7 to 10 minutes about my history and gave a very brief outline of my medical past. I did feel that this was a bit rushed"

"He said that he would treat me with a mixture of homeopathic medicine and conventional treatments and then hooked me up to a machine to determine any food intolerances."

"He put me off all dairy products and said that he would send me some homeopathic remedies and food supplements"

"Having suffered with the illness for so long and having been involved with the conventional practices for treating ME with no relief I went to Dr Lewith desperate. I left this first consultation a little shocked at the rushed pace and a little wary of homeopathy but determined to carry on. "

"I waited for my remedies in the post but only the food supplements and the blood test results arrived."

"On April 8th 2009, I went back for my 30 minute follow up consultation. We talked briefly about how I was doing. Dr Lewith exclaimed that I looked so much better than last time and that the treatments that he had sent me had obviously worked. I assumed he meant the food supplements. It quickly transpired that he meant the homeopathic drops that I had never received. I suggested that I  was probably better than last time because I was not recently recovering from tonsillitis. My confidence was immediately lost as I felt I was being coerced into thinking that the drugs he had provided were the reason for my recovery. Someone with knowledge of ME should be aware that a sufferer is not in a permanent state of ill health but generally that they follow what is known as ‘Boom and Bust’. I was going through a good patch, which after 8 years of being ill was the normal pattern. This was a maximum 5 minute conversation."

"He hooked me up to the machine again still without any real explanation. "

"I cancelled my next appointment with Dr Lewith having completely lost faith in his methods. I subsequently received two packages of drugs by post which I have returned. Neither at the consultation nor with the packages of drugs was there any explanation of what each drug was prescribed to achieve."

"It was soon after that Lewith was chasing me for payment of the cancelled appointment and the homeopathic drugs that I had sent back. This was a total of £230. I had already spent nearly £300. I refused to pay as I did not feel that I had received the proper medical care that is expected of a GP."

"He threatened to lay a claim against me at the small claims court."

"I submitted both a Defence and Counterclaim to his action against me."

"We went to court yesterday [January 17 2011] where Dr Lewith did not attend. "

"He failed to submit witness statements and a Defence to my Counterclaim. The judge struck the case off and my costs awarded against Dr Lewith."

"Conventional medicine had not been successful in helping me with ME and at 20 years old and at university I was desperate for a cure. I feel that complementary medicine takes advantage of people in my situation – I witnessed extortionate fees, blatant coercion to believe that it was working and blasé professionalism"

In response to a subsequent enquiry, Lettie Heywood told me

"He never told me what the homeopathic drugs were or what they were meant to do. When I received them I sent them straight back."

"I am pretty sure that I was given general vitamins and minerals and some magnesium (if that makes sense?)"

"From what I can gather from the internet it was the Vega machine. I was given something metal to hold in my hand whilst he applied a probe to my toe and added different vials into a slot in the machine. "

vega
A Vega machine

Ms Heywood also paid £85 for an ATP metabolism test, done by Acumen, a private company run by Dr John McLaren-Howard. This test allegedly found defects in ATP metabolism on the basis of which Ms Heywood was charged £91.91 for CoQ10 tablets. Neither the test, nor CoQ10, have any verified usefulness for her condition.

Here’s the bill for the homeopathic pills precribed by Lewith.

Homeo bill
Click to enlarge

These are the facts. Make of them what you will. At a cost of over £500, no good was done.

It isn’t surprising that Lewith’s claim was dismissed by the court.

court

The College of Medicine

We notice that Professor Lewith plays is vice-chair of the "College of Medicine" that has arisen from the ashes of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health (for more details see Don’t be deceived. The new “College of Medicine” is a fraud and delusion). That organisation is supposed to be devoted to “patient-centered medicine”. The reader can judge whether the case related here is a good example.

It is often said that one reason that people go to alternative practitioners is because real medicine can do nothing for them. That, only too often, is the case. People get desperate and clutch at straws. That is bad enough even in cases where the alternative practitioner believes sincerely, if wrongly, that their treatments work.

For the alternative practitioner to prescribe things which he knows full well don’t work, is, perhaps, rather worse.

Follow-up

Just as this post was about to go up, George Lewith popped up again in a BCC piece about how expectations affect the perception of pain (something that has been known for years). Lewith is quoted as saying “It completely blows cold randomised clinical trials, which don’t take into account expectation.” This comment shows a total misunderstand of how a randomised trial works. It is all explained properly by Majikthyse, in The wrong end of the stick

Just for fun, here is a discussion that I had with Lewith on Channel 4 News, as edited (not by me) for YouTube.

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Tags: George Lewith · homeopathy · University of Southampton · Vega test

25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Majikthyse // Feb 18, 2011 at 13:17

    It is not lawful to accuse someone of fraud unless you have evidence that they knew that what they were doing or saying was incorrect. I think the evidence here is pretty strong that Lewith knows that neither homeopathy nor the Vega test has any value in the condition he was treating. Lettie should take this to the GMC.

  • 2 zeno // Feb 18, 2011 at 14:09

    Majikthyse said:

    Lettie should take this to the GMC.

    Absolutely.

  • 3 neiltingley // Feb 18, 2011 at 14:11

    Question: if you are treated by an altquack or someone using altquackery, how do you raise a professional complaint against them ? Surely the GMC exists for modern medicine only? Can you sue a homeopath for recommending sugar pills as a substitute for conventional vaccines ?

  • 4 Tweets that mention George Lewith’s private practice. Another case study. -- Topsy.com // Feb 18, 2011 at 14:30

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Lewis, arron shutt, arron shutt, Rob Hinkley and others. Rob Hinkley said: RT @lecanardnoir: How gentle and patient centred is complementary medicine? Case study on Dr George Lewith. Shocking. http://bit.ly/icGpMf [...]

  • 5 lecanardnoir // Feb 18, 2011 at 15:38

    Lewith is registered as a GP with the GMC

    http://ind.pn/1QJcVB

    makes you thunk, no?

  • 6 neiltingley // Feb 18, 2011 at 15:44

    Why would a GP prescribe sugar pills to a patient who is looking for treatment. Hmm. The mystical powers of homeopathy.

  • 7 Majikthyse // Feb 18, 2011 at 17:37

    The entire field of health care regulation is appalling. The GMC only regulates doctors (physicians of course, rather than `real’ doctors such as PhDs). But in general a doctor practising CAM only gets disciplined if they kill someone. Nonetheless it’s still important to bring cases against quacks who are physicians, to draw attention to the problem. The GMC does its best to let them off.

    For non-physician quacks, David here has researched and written more than adequately! There is legislation in place but the authorities would do anything but use it.

  • 8 Dr Aust // Feb 18, 2011 at 23:25

    A dismal story, frankly. Lewith should be ashamed.

    The expression that comes strongly to mind, given the fees they were charging, is “Kerrr-chingg”. and not in a good way.

  • 9 Majikthyse // Feb 19, 2011 at 00:09

    Lewith was not born with shame receptors.

  • 10 Richard Rawlins // Feb 21, 2011 at 11:29

    The GMC will investigate any claim.

    If there is reson to suspect a registrant is not \Fit to Practice\ an Assessment will be carried out.

    If that assessment so indicates, a hearing will be carried out with \prosecution\ from the GMC lawyer and defence by the doctor with or without legal representation. Witnesses will be called by either side.

    If the doctor is found unfit, sanctions will be applied, which might be \undertakings\ or removal from the Register.

    The initial grounds for concern will be health or performance.

    This lady must speak for herself, but all doctors must act honestly and truthfully. Did she give fully informed consent to treatment? Was she informed (in a way she could comprehend) that the homeopathic remedies contained no active ingredient?

    If not, she gave no valid consent, was mislead, and may feel defrauded.

    All she needs to do is complain to the GMC along these lines. She should not go into detail about her medical condition as such – but the professionalism of the doctor whose performance may suggest he is not fit to practice.

    The GMC investigation will include a review of his medical records, copies of consent forms (if any) details of post graduate training, relationships with colleagues and general indicators of probity and integrity.

  • 11 Chris // Feb 21, 2011 at 14:40

    I was interested in another aspect of the invoice you published, namely the charging of VAT. On investigation, it appears that only those practitioners who have a “statutory register” are exempt from VAT, both on the treatment itself and on the medicines that they prescribe.

    See:
    http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk/channelsPortalWebApp/channelsPortalWebApp.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pageLibrary_PublicNoticesAndInfoSheets&propertyType=document&columns=1&id=HMCE_CL_000121#P77_7491
    especially paragraph 2.2.

    This of course takes us straight back to your previous post on registration. I wonder whether this has in part driven the desire of TCM practitioners for statutory registration.

  • 12 Alan Bird // Feb 22, 2011 at 14:21

    A world’s first! It seems obvious that the four blank lines lines in the invoice shown above are homeopathic “medicines” but now even their very names are diluted and succussed into nothingness.
    The real surprise is that the dilution has also been applied to the money charged. Up to now it’s been the rule that all cash wrung out of a victim is in *inverse* proportion to the effectiveness of the stuff they peddle, so this is a welcome development which could lead to them all going out of business.

  • 13 CrewsControl // Feb 22, 2011 at 20:36

    @Professor Colquhoun
    I’ve watched the clip above showing you crossing swords with George Lewith and I honestly don’t feel that an unbiased observer will feel you laid a glove on him. The distinction between efficacious and effective is always lost in these time-limited encounters. I thought it clever of Lewith not to get tied down by detail and instead talk about Health Provider approval. Stressing that two big Health Insurance Companies have agreed to fund this treatment will register with the general public who know how ungenerous the insurance companies generally are.
    You say, when discussing NICE, ‘heavily biased towards manipulative people’ but surely you only introduce confusion because that’s what physiotherapists are. And ‘They work no better than physiotherapy or exercise’ (and presumably no worse). Singh and Ernst (2008) in their book stated that ‘There is borderline evidence that acupuncture may be useful for pain and nausea, …..’ that I suppose is the foot in the door. It is for that reason, and in the interests of patient choice, that the Govt will not ban NHS-funded acupuncture.
    After all if clergymen/mullahs/rabbis/shamen etc (also paid for by the NHS) can attend the bedside and spout what some would of think of as ‘mystic garbage’ then why not allow the acupuncturists to act out their theatrical placebo in the great British tradition of fair play. They are after all little more than needle priests.

    Anyway, I understand your position to be that you “…have no objection to the NHS funding placebos as long as they are honest about what they are doing”. So all the acupuncturists need do, to satisfy you at least, is to say ‘this treatment is said by some scientists to be a theatrical placebo but….’. And presumably if the variously denominated clergy say the same they can stay too. And what of the psychological therapies where there is at present no satisfactory means of distinguishing between efficacy and effect?
    This comes down to the moral, ethical and indeed philosophical rationale for funding placebo treatment with public funds.

  • 14 David Colquhoun // Feb 23, 2011 at 13:34

    I’m not sure where to start on all that. You say Lewith is ‘clever’. I’d prefer ‘devious’. It is hard to argue with someone who behaves like this, but one has to try, nonetheless.C

    The distinction between efficacy and effectiveness is an obvious hoax, used by quacks to sell their wares.

    Psychotherapists need to show what they do is useful as much as any other sort of treatment.

  • 15 CrewsControl // Feb 24, 2011 at 14:18

    @Professor Colquhoun
    ‘Psychotherapists need to show what they do is useful as much as any other sort of treatment.’
    But surely we want more than that, don’t we? Especially in the NHS where limited funds should be spent wisely. We want to know it works and the treatment offers therapeutic benefits greater than placebo.
    I’m sure you’ll agree that useful is less demanding than efficacy. Useful is a word that would slip easily from the tongue of George Lewith. After all Angie Buxton-King, chief spiritual healer at UCL hospital who you met last year (http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3695) was useful ( but why not fund an extra nurse instead?)

  • 16 David Colquhoun // Feb 24, 2011 at 16:55

    @CrewsControl
    By “useful” I mean ‘better than placebo’, or ‘better than no treatment’. So by “useful” i mean more or less the same as efficacious. It seems, for reasons that I don’t understand fully, to be quite hard work to persuade people that treatments that are not efficacious should not be funded. I suppose that the greatest difficulty arises in this areas, only to common, where no efficaceous treatment is known.

    I agree of course that my definition of “useful” isn’t the same as that used by quacks.

  • 17 Lindy // Mar 4, 2011 at 09:55

    A propos de nothing in particular and woo in general, here is some daft stuff.

    Names have been changed, but there is a little shop which recently publicised its wares summat like this:

    “Later this month we shall be hosts to Arabella from Quirkby-Luniville who will carry out food intolerance testing in the shop. Each consultation will last for approximately one hour at a cost of £40. Using Vega testing Anne tests individuals (including children over the age of 5) for a wide range of foods – helpful if you feel you may have food intolerances. Vega testing is also called Electro Acupuncture and uses the acupuncture points on the hands as access points to your body’s sensitive electromagnetic system”. [Don't remember that bit of physiology].

    The people running the place also said they don’t want to be seen as an alternative to local GPs, but to ‘work with them’ ! This is a bleedin’ retail outlet, selling pills and potions and some groceries. I mean, who goes into Kwifit undr the impression that it is some sort of alternative dentist?

    and then there is this from the webiste of some sort of wellness outfit (not sure what it calls itself and I think I would fall asleep if I visited the site again)

    ‘Rose believes that nothing happens by chance and that symptoms in the body are an expression of an imbalance (dis-ease) somewhere in your being. She uses energy sensing combined with “listening” to her centre (her 7th sense) [? haven't seen this represented on the homunculus] to be guided to the priority area(s) to be worked with in any session. She then uses her healing skills to help you to release those energies that no longer serve you well. She may also be guided to dowse using Universal Balancing Charts to aid this process.

    During a healing, Rose attunes herself to a limitless energy source at the highest vibration she can reach. She allows this energy to flow through her and from her hands to you. Most of the time her hands are between 3 and 18 inches from your body, working in the energy space around you – although she does usually touch your feet part way through the session. She is not using “her” energy, so a treatment doesn’t deplete her. [Phew that's a relief!] In fact the reverse happens as some of the energy “sticks” on the way through and energises her too! Nor do [sic] she take on anything that you release. She imagines this energy being taken to the centre of the earth or the cosmos [make up your mind] where it is transformed and released for reuse – the ultimate in recycling’.

    Mind-boggling, but also disgusting! I wouldn’t want energy from inside someone floating around my chakras. Goodness knows where it might have been. And having your feet touched suddenly might break the spell as you scream at the tickling. YUK.

    Oh and my daughter tells me that followers of David Icke are quite sure that members of the royal family are all lizards who control the weather. Now there’s a thought.

  • 18 Richard Rawlins // Mar 6, 2011 at 20:25

    Has anyone referred Dr Lewith to the GMC?

    All that needs to be done is sent this blog!

    As an Associate Member it would not be appropriate for me to do so at present, but is no one else sufficiently concerned.

    And where does Professor Lewith have his chair? Does anyone know? Has anyone asked him.

    I am sure it is genuine as otherwise he would be accused of fraud.

    (Any one can use any title they like, but they must not seek dishonest advantage from so doing).

  • 19 Dr Aust // Mar 7, 2011 at 22:15

    Lewith does hold a real chair (in “Health Research”) at a real University (Southampton). The Prof is probably one of the two or three most prominent CAM apologists in medical academia in the UK. He is certainly the most academically “respectable”, which I guess explains why he turns up on TV so often. Lewith has also been pretty successful in raising funding (including from Govt agencies) for his Research Unit.

    As DC has pointed out, Lewith runs trials of pretty good quality, a rarity in the CAM fraternity, But one often has the impression that he then seems to go through quite extraordinary intellectual contortions to explain why all his negative results aren’t actually negative.

    A cynic might be tempted to say that, with the notable exception of Edzard Ernst, people in CAM research tend to be quite keen to find that CAM works, and a lot less interested in finding out that it doesn’t.

  • 20 Apologists for Andrew Wakefield at Southampton University: a Russell group university teaching some dangerous nonsense // Jul 5, 2011 at 12:55

    [...] The unit is quite big: ten research staff, four PhD students and two support staff It is headed by George Lewith. [...]

  • 21 Dr Elizabeth Thompson of Bristol Homeopathic Hospital finds that pills that contain nothing have no effect (not even placebo effect) // Jul 27, 2011 at 23:47

    [...] That has been a problem with the pharmaceutical industry, as discussed by Ben Goldacre in This is a very broken system. For example, It has turned out that the SSRI antidepressants are essentially ineffective in mild/moderate depression, but that fact was concealed because negative trials were hidden by the drug companies. Likewise, it must be very tempting for homeopaths and other advocates of magic medicine, to quietly forget about trails that don’t come out as they wish. Nobody knows how often that happens, and Homeopaths certainly don’t always bury negative results. Peter Fisher has published trials with negative results. So has George Lewith. Both, needless to say, continue to prescribe it. [...]

  • 22 University of Westminster shuts down naturopathy, nutritional therapy, but keeps Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine. // Aug 17, 2011 at 17:54

    [...] that Simon Gibbons is willing to appear on the same programme as Simon Mills and David Peters, and George Lewith. Mills’ ideas can be judged by watching a video of a talk he gave in which he [...]

  • 23 Science-Based Medicine » Dummy Medicine, Dummy Doctors, and a Dummy Degree, Part 2.1: Harvard Medical School and the Curious Case of Ted Kaptchuk, OMD (cont.) // Sep 16, 2011 at 06:00

    [...] Dr. George T. Lewith [...]

  • 24 The demise of quackademia. Progress in the last 5 years leaves Michael Driscoll and Geoffrey Petts isolated. // Jan 1, 2012 at 18:30

    [...] Of these, the University of Southampton is perhaps the worst, because of the presence of George Lewith, and his defender, Stephen Holgate. Others have staunch defenders of quackery, including the [...]

  • 25 A thoroughly dangerous charity: YesToLife promotes nonsense cancer treatments // Nov 8, 2012 at 01:48

    [...] of Dr Lewith. See Lewith’s private clinic has curious standards, in 2006, and this year George Lewith’s private practice. Another case study. The make up your own mind about whether you’d trust [...]

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