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This article has appeared, in nearly identical form, on the UK Conversation . You can leave comments there or here.


charles X2
The modern major-general

A constitutional monarch is purely ceremonial and plays no part in politics.  Well actually in the UK it isn’t quite as simple as that. The first problem is that we have no constitution.  Things haven’t changed much since the 19th century when Walter Bagehot said "the Sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy… three rights—the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn."

These are not inconsiderable powers in a country which is meant to be run by elected representatives.  But nobody knows how these powers are used: it is all done in secret.  Well, almost all. Charles, Prince of Wales, has been unusually public in expressing his views.  He told a conference at St James’s Palace “I was accused once of being the enemy of the Enlightenment” “I felt proud of that.”  That’s a remarkable point of view for someone who, if he succeeds, will become the patron of that product of the age of enlightenment, the Royal Society.

I have no doubt that Prince Charles means well.  He can’t be blamed for his lack of education.  But his views on medicine date from a few centuries ago, and he has lost no opportunity to exploit his privileged position to proclaim them. 

Euphemisms for quackery

He set up the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health (PFIH) to promote his views. ( “Integrated”, in this context, is, of course, just the latest euphemism for “alternative” or “quack”.)   When the Foundation collapsed because of a financial scandal in 2010, it was replaced by the “College of Medicine”.  The name changed, but not the people behind it.  Initially this phoenix was to be named the “College of Integrated Health”, but by this time the prince’s views on medicine had become sufficiently discredited that the word “integrated” was quickly dropped.  This might be thought less than frank, but it is just employment of the classic bait and switch technique, beloved by used car salesmen.

His views were well publicised in a PFIH publication, “Complementary Healthcare: a Guide for Patients”. That volume either omitted or misrepresented the evidence about the one question that matters most to patients – does the treatment work or not?  It caused me to write a much shorter, but more accurate, version, the Patients’ Guide to Magic Medicine.  The PFIH guide was arguably a danger to public health. When, very properly, it was criticised by Edzard Ernst, a letter was sent from from the prince’s private secretary to Ernst’s vice-chancellor, Steve Smith.  Instead of defending Ernst’s public spirited action, Smith instituted disciplinary proceedings against Ernst that lasted for a year.  The prince had intervened directly in the affairs of the university.  Steve Smith was rewarded with a knighthood in 2011.

None of this criticism has dimmed the prince’s enthusiasm for barmy medical ideas.  He is well known to write many letters to government ministers to try to persuade them to adopt his ideas in a whole range of areas.  In July 2013, the Minister of Health, Jeremy Hunt, visited the prince at Clarence House.  The visit was reported to be to persuade the minister to defend homeopathy, though it was more likely to have been to press the case to confer a government stamp of approval on herbalists and traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners by giving them statutory regulation.  This is a matter that was recently raised again in parliament by Charles’ greatest ally, David Tredinnick MP (Con, Bosworth) who got into trouble for charging astrology software to expenses.  We shall never know what pressure was applied.  A ruling of the Information Commissioner judged, reasonably enough, that there was public interest in knowing what influences were being brought to bear on public policy.  But the Attorney General overruled the judgement on the grounds that “Disclosure of the correspondence could damage The Prince of Wales’ ability to perform his duties when he becomes King.”  That, of course, is exactly what we are worried about.

Influence on politics

The prince’s influence seems to be big in the Department of Health (DH).  He was given £37,000 of taxpayers’ money to produce his guide, and an astonishing £900,000 to prepare the ground for the setting up of the hapless self-regulator, the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC, also known as Ofquack).  When NHS Choices (itself set up by DH to assess evidence) tried to rewrite its web page about that most discredited of all forms of quackery, homeopathy, officials in DH referred the new advice to Michael Dixon, the medical director of the Prince’s Foundation and, were it not for the Freedom of Information act, the DH would have caused inaccurate information to be provided. The DH has a chief medical officer and two scientific advisors, but prefers to take the advice of the Prince of Wales.

The Prince of Wales’ business, Duchy Originals, has been condemned by the Daily Mail, (of all places) for selling unhealthy foods. And when his business branched into selling quack “detox” and herbal nonsense he found himself censured by both the MHRA and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for making unjustifiable medical claims for these products.

Ainsworth’s homeopathic pharmacy is endorsed by both Prince Charles and the Queen: it has two Royal Warrants.  They sell “homeopathic vaccines” for meningitis, measles, rubella and whooping cough. These “vaccines” contain nothing whatsoever so they are obviously a real danger to public health.  Despite the fact that Ainsworth’s had already been censured by the ASA in 2011 for selling similar products, Ainsworth’s continued to recommend them with a “casual disregard for the law”. The regulator (the MHRA) failed to step in to stop them until it was eventually stirred into action by a young BBC reporter, Sam Smith, made a programme for BBC South West.  Then, at last, the somnolent regulator was stirred into action.  The MHRA “told Ainsworths to stop advertising a number of products” (but apparently not to stop making them or selling them).  They still sell Polonium metal 30C and Swine Meningitis 36C, and a booklet that recommends homeopathic “vaccination”. Ainsworth’s sales are no doubt helped by the Royal Warrants.  The consequence is that people may die of meningitis. In 2011, the MHRA Chief Executive Professor Kent Woods, was knighted.

It runs in the family

The Prince of Wales is not the only member of the royal family to be obsessed with bizarre forms of medicine. The first homeopath to the British royal family, Frederick Quin, was a son of the Duchess of Devonshire (1765-1824).  Queen Mary (1865-1953), wife of King George V, headed the fundraising efforts to move and expand the London Homeopathic Hospital. 

King George VI was so enthusiastic that in 1948 conferred the royal title on the London Homeopathic Hospital.  The Queen Mother loved homeopathy too (there is no way to tell whether this contributed to her need for a colostomy in the 1960s).

The present Queen’s homeopathic physician is Peter Fisher, who is medical director of what, until recently was called the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (RLHH).  In 2010 that hospital was rebranded as the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RLHIM) in another unsubtle bait and switch move. 

The RLHIM is a great embarrassment to the otherwise excellent UCLH Trust.  It has been repeatedly condemned by the Advertising Standards Authority for making false claims.  As a consequence, it has been forced to withdraw all of its patient information.

The patron of the RLHIM is the Queen, not the Prince of Wales.  It is hard to imagine that this anachronistic institution would still exist if it were not for the influence, spoken or unspoken, of the Queen.  Needless to say we will never be told.

Queen Fisher
The Queen and Peter Fisher
Observer 8 April 2007

The attorney general, while trying to justify the secrecy of Charles’ letters, said

“It is a matter of the highest importance within our constitutional framework that the Monarch is a politically neutral figure”.

Questions about health policy are undoubtedly political, and the highly partisan interventions of the prince in the political process make his behaviour unconstitutional. They endanger the monarchy itself.  Whether that matters depends on how much you value tradition and how much you value the tourist business generated by the Gilbert & Sullivan flummery at which royals excel. 

The least that one can ask of the royal family is that they should not endanger the health of the nation.  If I wanted to know the winner of the 2.30 at Ascot, I’d ask a royal. For any question concerning science or medicine I’d ask someone with more education.


Here is some more interesting reading

Michael Baum’s “An open letter to the Prince of Wales: with respect, your highness, you’ve got it wrong”

Gerald Weissman’s essay Homeopathy: Holmes, Hogwarts, and the Prince of Wales.

Channel 4 TV documentary HRH “meddling in politics”
 

Observer April 2007 "Royals’ favoured hospital at risk as homeopathy backlash gathers pace. The Queen loves it. But alternative medicine centre’s future looks uncertain as more NHS trusts axe funding"

Follow-up

We all know that chiropractors feel pretty desperate, after their job has been revealed as baseless (much more information at ebm-first). Nonetheless it was very surprising when I was alerted by Twitter to the fact that the London Chiropractors were claiming to have been chosen by UCL as a "Centre of Excellence".

chiro2

That was the heading in the whole page devoted to crowing about this designation. The page, as it was on18th April, can be seen on freezepage.com. They even boast about our 21 Nobel prizewinners, as though they had endorsed chiropractic.

"London Chiropractor has recently been designated as a “Centre of Excellence” by University College London. The University is among the world’s leading universities as can be seen by its ranking in a variety of performance areas. Twenty-one Nobel prizewinners have come from the University’s community".

chiro-3s

The triumphalist crowing goes on

"The designation of London Chiropractor as a Centre of Excellence is something that we are sincerely proud of. It distinguishes our clinic while providing impetus to carry on with our multi-disciplinary and evidence based treatment strategies while looking for new ways in which to improve on all aspects of our clinic at the same time and in a continuous manner."

But chiropractic is undoubtedly in deep trouble, after more that 600 complaints were submitted to the General Chiropractic Council (GCC). The GCC was forced to renounce what has always been a central myth of chiropractic, the "subluxation". The fact that most of the complaints have been rejected has revealed huge deficiencies in the GCC (some of which it recently admitted). It also reveals the uselessness of the Council for Health Regulatory Excellence (CHRE).which is meant to supervise them. More details at quackometer, Chiropractors at War with their Regulator, the GCC.

In the words of Richard Brown (president of the BCA) himself,

"The BCA sued Simon Singh personally for libel. In doing so, the BCA began one of the darkest periods in its history; one that was ultimately to cost it financially,"

Needless to say, chiropractors are trying to cash in on the Olympic games, sadly, with a little success. I suppose that invoking UCL. was part of that attempt. Like so many of chiropractors’ attempts to defend themselves, it misfired badly.

The inspection of evidence that followed the attempt by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) to sue Simon Singh showed that he was entirely justified to describe many of their treatments as “bogus” and “without a jot of evidence”.

A quick email to the UCL authorities quickly determined that the claimed endorsement was not true. Attempting to access this page now leads to “page not found". The page vanished on Sunday 22nd April, and a near identical page for the Broadgate Spine and Joint Clinic had already vanished on Friday 20th April. While it is true that two surgeons from UCL’s Institute of Sports Medicine have worked in the same building, they neither use chiropractic nor endorse it.

I’m assured that the alleged endorsement never happened. London Chiropractors won’t say where it came from. It seems that it was simply made up. I think that’s called a lie. I presume it is a sign of the desperation of chiropractors.

Follow-up

Jump to follow-up

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cameron

Andrew Lansley’s Health Bill (HASSB) aims to change the NHS into something more like the US system, which gives worse results at twice the cost.

The only possible reason for wanting to do that is simple far-right ideology. No wonder that no hint was given of its intentions before the election.

On the contrary, David Cameron stated repeatedly that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. That turned out to be a straight lie.

“First let me tell you what we are not going to do. There will be no more of those pointless reorganisations that aim for change, but instead bring chaos.” [David Cameron speaking to Royal College of Nursing in 2009, before election].

We all know that money must be saved. But the two major disasters of the coalition government don’t save any money.

On the contrary, both tuition fees and NHS-wrecking will cost taxpayers’ money. The tuition fees are done (for the time being) but there is still time to save the NHS.

The best simple explanation that I’ve found is by Dr Max Pemberton in the Telegraph: Read this – and prepare to fight for your NHS. The Bill is three times longer than the 1946 Bill that brought the NHS into existence.

“The power to determine the services that make up the NHS will be transferred from the Secretary of State to newly created Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which are unelected. Members will include GPs but also company chief executives who can, if they wish, outsource decisions about the appropriate level of services offered to companies with commercial interests. This is what the Government means when it says it is handing GPs £60 billion of NHS money. ”

Monitor. This quango is composed of unelected and unaccountable individuals. It will not have overarching responsibility – which the Government does currently – to ensure that everyone’s health needs are met.” “It will have the power to decide, on purely financial grounds, if an area loses its existing range of hospital services, such as A&E departments, with no duty to consider alternative provision.

“With so many different providers of health care created under this Bill, those with complex health care needs may not receive the joined-up medical care that the NHS now works hard to provide.”

“Less profitable patients – those requiring complex levels of care from multiple individuals and areas of expertise, for example – may be sidelined by these private companies. ”

“the Bill allows CCGs to contract out commissioning functions to private accountancy, health insurance and management consultant firms, which will be able to decide what care is provided free at the point of use through the NHS and what is not. This means that profit-making companies will be able to provide your clinical care and also decide what you’re entitled to under the NHS and from which care providers.” “There is the potential for commercial conflicts when the needs of shareholders come between doctors and patients. ”

“Providers, too, can reduce levels of service provision and entitlement to NHS-funded care and there are no restrictions on charging for non-NHS care.”

“Now, up to 49 per cent of income can be generated from private income. This means that almost half the beds currently used for NHS care could be given over to private patients.” “This could create a two-tier system in hospitals” and “create a conflict of interest, with hospitals having a clear incentive to encourage as many patients as possible to use the private half of their facilities. Moreover, hospitals can decide when to discharge patients. The requirement for coordinated discharge and aftercare of patients between health and social care is abolished in the Bill. “

Why is the bill needed at all?

Most people believe that there is no need for a bill. The real aim appears to be in part 3, which proposes a vast increase in private providers. Oliver Huitson says

“A US report comparing the health services of 7 major economies ranked the NHS 1st in terms of efficiency, and 2nd overall. The US, which has vast private sector involvement and much greater use of GP commissioning, was ranked last despite spending more than twice as much per head as the UK”

” Despite being ranked as one of the most efficient and equitable health services in the developed world, the Conservatives are determined to remodel it in the image of one of the least efficient – all in the name of “improving efficiency”.”

Although most GPs are in favour of having more say in what happens, even the first parts of the bill are a mess. They are advertised as reducing bureaucracy and reducing costs. According to the Financial Times, they do exactly the opposite.

“Here was the original NHS bureaucracy in graphic form”

nhs-prev

Here is the new NHS bureaucracy in graphic form

nhs-new

Ed Miliband pointed out that the number of NHS statutory organisations was growing from 163 to 521 – including “health and wellbeing committees,” “national commissioning boards”, “clinical networks”, “clinical senates” and so on.

So much for reduced bureaucracy.

Who thinks this is not a good idea?

Almost everyone. Not just the BMA which Lansley dismisses as a Trade Union, despite the fact that now (unlike in 1948) the BMA is voting against the financial interests of its members.

The Royal College of General Practitioners says Drop the Bill. So do Royal College of Nursing. Royal College of Midwives, Faculty of Public Health, Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, the Patients’ Association, among others. Almost the only support left is from the NHS Alliance, a tiny organisation run by Michael Dixon, friend of the Prince of Wales and advocate of quack medicine. The NHS alliance ran its own poll. A total of 100 people have voted so far, 99 of them against the Alliance’s policy. Some support. A rather good infographic shows how the balance lies.

The BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, which represents all GPs in the UK says [read full letter]

“1. Formally reaffirms its opposition to the NHS Health and Social Care Bill;

2. Believes that if passed the Bill will be irreversibly damaging to the NHS as a public service, converting it into a competitive marketplace that will widen health inequalities and be detrimental to patient care; . . . .”

In contrast, the e-petition to the government, started by Dr Kailash Chand OBE, states simply that it “Calls on the Government to drop its Health and Social Care Bill.”. It now has over 167,000 signatories. But despite the fact that petitions with over 100,000 signatures are meant to trigger a debate in the House of Commons, the backbench business committee of MPs has decided not to debate the e-petition.

So many people have rallied to oppose the daftness that it’s invidious to single out names. Nonetheless special mentions must go to Clare Gerada (@clarercgp on Twitter) (chair of the RCGP), and to Clive Peedell (@cpeedell) (oncologist and co-chair NHS Consultants’ Association) -read his Bevan’s Run blog. Among academics, Allyson Pollock and Martin McKee have done superb work on the details.

Most telling of all, some of the people who started by supporting Lansley have changed their minds. One concern about the “any qualified provider” idea is that it could open the door to quackery. Any “qualified” homeopath could bid for business at a competitive rate -sugar pills don’t cost much. Michael Dixon is one such.

Dr Sam Everington of Tower Hamlets is another. Services provided by his practice include “referrals to Inside Out Health and Wellbeing Ltd“. This private company will sell you fraudulent scams like homeopathy and kinesiology at £50 per session, among other nonsense (according to Companies House, it was wound up on 17 January 2012). He’s also associated with the “College of Medicine” (the reincarnation of the Prince of Wales’ Foundation). See also, Dr Margaret McCartney’s blog. As chair of the first Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) he was embraced by Cameron. His Bromley-by-Bow surgery was host for Andrew Lansley’s first speech as health secretary after the 2010 election, and also host to the Prince of Wales..

But now even Everington has turned against the Bill (read the full letter).

“Dear Prime Minister

The Board of NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group ask you to reflect and to withdraw the Health and Social Care Bill.”

“We care deeply about the patients that we see every day and we believe the improvements we all want to see in the NHS can be achieved without the bureaucracy generated by the Bill.

Your government has interpreted our commitment to our patients as support for the bill. It is not.”

And, on 1st March, another request to drop the bill, from the East London Integrated Care (ELIC is a not-for-profit social enterprise which is owned and run by local people and health professionals”). Read the full letter.

“Thursday, 1 March 2012 N1 5LZ

Dear Prime Minister,

The Board of City & Hackney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) join Tower Hamlets
and most other GPs and nurses and ask you to withdraw the Health and Social Care Bill.”

Is it really privatisation?

If you feel reassured by Lansley’s assurances that his measures aren’t de facto privatisation, just watch this video. It reveals some of the network of lobby groups that are circling the NHS, eager to take your money. For example, the lobby group, Policy Exchange, “Cameron’s favourite”, co-founded by Francis Maude, a member of Cameron’s cabinet, and is lobbying for more private sector provision of NHS services. One of the companies that it’s taken money from is called Tribal, which wants to take over commissioning from GPs. One of the directors of Tribal has described Andrew Lansley’s reforms as being “denationalisation of health services in England”.

So you don’t need to listen to left-wingers. The industry itself is in no doubt that it’s privatisation, and it’s ready and waiting to grab our money..

And of all unlikely allies, the vice chair of the British Holistic Medical Association has written a powerful letter about how the bill really would result in privatisation.

The likely consequences have been put well by Ben Goldacre in his What will happen with the NHS bill, in 5 tweets.  The following points are based partly on this.

  • GPs know they’re being set up to fail by being given commissioning powers, which they have neither the time nor the expertise to do properly.
  •  After GPs fail, private commissioning expertise will be needed. Large private companies will be given the job and they will come to operate like health insurers.
  • These large bodies, like public/private insurance companies, will be able to pick and choose patients. They will naturally prefer the ones from whom they can make the most money (and not the sick or the old).  Note that there is no geographical responsibility in the bill
  • Small differences will gradually emerge in what services they offer. Top up plans will become available. And that will be the end of the NHS in the form in which we know it.

The only way that the proposals make any sense at all is if the underlying aim is to destroy the NHS, in anything like its present form.  I believe that Lansley’s aims are much more to do with his personal political ideologies than anything to do with health.  Those ideologies are far to the right of anything envisaged by Margaret Thatcher.

The politics. Where are the Lib Dems?

I voted Lib Dem in 2010, and I said precisely why. Of course I didn’t expect they’d get a majority. They were just the party that I found least objectionable. Like so many others I watched with horror as the numbers came out. There was no other option but to form a coalition with Conservatives. Well, I’d have been happier with no coalition, but the danger of that producing an overall majority for Conservatives after a year or so made that a very risky option.

When the coalition formed I was alarmed by the prospects for both education and for the NHS.  I was less alarmed by the latter, because Cameron had said so many times that he had no intention of messing with the NHS.  That turned out to be a direct lie.  I could scarcely believe it when Lansley produced a plan after the election for the biggest reorganisation ever in the NHS, something that had not been foreshadowed in any way in the Conservative manifesto.  This was one of the most dishonest bits of political manoeuvring that I’ve ever encountered.

Clearly we were spending more than we could afford. What’s unforgivable is to do things that actually cost the taxpayer more than before. Such actions are quite the opposite of cuts.  Yet they are being done in the two areas, than any others, that have got Lib Dem voters angry.

(a) The £9k tuition fees cost the taxpayer more than the £3k fees did, because of the financing arrangements.  I can see no conceivable reason for spending more taxpayers’ money than before apart from (Conservative) political ideology.  That’s done (for now) so back to the main topic of this post, the NHS.

(b)  It seems inevitable that Lansley’s proposals will cost money, not save money.  Presumably that was predicted in the risk register, the concealment of which is a disgrace. See Liberal Conspiracy and the Green Benches blogs. The Information Commissioner ordered the release of the risk register, but the coalition refused (so much for transparent government). They appealed so now it goes to an Information Tribunal.
An Early Day Motion in the House of Commons urged release. It was signed by only 16 Lib Dems.

The bill started to fall apart in a major way when, on February 6th, The Times reported that

“Andrew Lansley should be taken out and shot,” says a Downing Street source. “He’s messed up both the communication and the substance of the policy.”

But Cameron, instead of grasping the chance, decided to back a loser.

Some Lib Dems have stuck to their principles. For example

John Pugh MP, Co-Chair of the Lib Dem Parliamentary Health Committee, re-established the Beveridge group, and wrote a letter to parliamentarians to explain why.

Andrew George MP wrote Health Bill has no friends. Dignified withdrawal would be best.

On 13 February, hearts soared when Lib Dem peer Shirley Williams spoke out at last. She urged Lansley to drop part 3 of the bill, the part that deals with privatisation. The elation didn’t last long though. Nick Clegg told the BBC: “Andrew Lansley is the architect of the NHS bill. He cares passionately about the NHS. He’s the right man for the job and he must see it through.”. Yes, I know about Cabinet solidarity, but it’s hard to think of any surer way to lose elections than to make statements like that. Even many Conservatives don’t believe it: see, for example, Dr Rachel Joyce on Conservative Home.

On 24th February, the Lib Dem president, Tim Farron MP, spoke up at last. “Mr Farron told ITV the bill should have been “massively changed” or dropped earlier and he wanted plans for more competition in the NHS to be dropped”.

On 26 February, Nigel Crisp, described the bill as a confusing mess that risks setting the NHS back. Crisp was formerly NHS chief executive and the permanent secretary at the Department of Health from 2000 to 2006, and is now a crossbench peer. Like everyone else, he was ignored.

The elation about Shirley Williams intervention didn’t last long. On 27th February a joint letter from Williams and Clegg claimed that they’d fixed the bill. The letter was quickly subjected to a bullshitometer analysis, by Health Policy Insight. Bafflingly, Lansley declared in public that he’d “changed his mind” about the privatisation, while at the same time Lansley and Cameron claimed that nothing much had changed: see Downing Street in knots as it plays down Nick Clegg’s NHS concessions, and Paul Corrigan’s blog.

March 1st saw two more blows for Clegg and Lansley. First, as reported thus in the Independent.

“Graham Winyard, the former deputy Chief Medical Officer, resigned from the party in protest at the leadership’s backing for the Bill. Dr Winyard, who was chairman of Winchester Liberal Democrats until last year, told Mr Clegg in a letter: “It is just not sensible to impose this top-down reorganisation on an NHS struggling to meet the biggest financial challenge in its history. To continue to do so in the face of near unanimous opposition from patient, staff and professional organisations simply invites slow motion disaster both for the NHS and for the party.” He said that he had no option but to resign “with great sadness”. “

Then, also on 1st March, Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, wrote to 22,000 GPs. [full letter]

  • Believes the bill will compromise the role of GPs, and could cause irreparable damage to the relationship between GPs and their patients.
  • Believes the bill to be complex, incoherent and not fit for purpose, and almost impossible to implement successfully, given widespread opposition across the NHS workforce.
  • Believes that passing the bill will be an irresponsible waste of taxpayers’ money, which will be spent on unnecessary reorganisation rather than on patient care, as well as increasing the running costs of the NHS from the processes of competition, and transaction costs

The chaos that the Lib Dems now find themselves in is illustrated clearly by a post on Liberal Democrat Voice by Andrew Tennant. He’s apparently an unreconstructed 19th century Whig, masquerading as a 21st century liberal. The comments on the post reveal the mess the party has got itself into by refusing to drop the bill.

More to the point, look at the proper detailed analyses done by people who are a lot more knowledgeable than Andrew Tennant, or Andrew Lansley.

There is one last chance for the Lib Dems to restore their reputation. Lib Dems hope to finally kill health reforms. “Liberal Democrat activists will defy Nick Clegg over the Government’s controversial health reforms by seeking to “kill” them at a party policy-making conference next week.”

Good luck to them. They could save the Lib Dems if they win. Much more importantly, they could save the NHS.

Follow-up

Sunday 4 March. Yet another story of corruption, this time in the Mail on Sunday.

“The head of the NHS regulator that is meant to ensure fairness when private-sector firms bid for public contracts is also the chairman of a huge company whose Health Service business is worth £80 million a year – and set to increase massively.

As the chairman of the NHS Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP), Lord Carter of Coles is paid £57,000 for two days’ work each week. But his other role, as chairman of the UK branch of the American healthcare firm McKesson, is more generously rewarded. Last year it paid him £799,000.”

“Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: ‘He cannot have any credibility when he is also heading a company with such huge interests in the very contracts his organisation is meant to police.”

See also Conflicts of Interest and NHS reform.

According to a tweet from James Ball

“Politics of the #NHSbill awful for lib dems: only 17% of their current supporters back it – and only 9% of their 2010 voters.”

Sounds plausible. Are you listening, Nick Clegg?

5 March 2012. The emergency motion for the Lib Dem Spring Conference (March 10 -11) has been published. See also the blog of the heroic Dr Charles West for more details. If Clegg manages to defeat this excellent motion, the last chance to save the NHS will be gone.

10 March 2012

Bitterly disappointed by vote at Lib Dem conference, not to debate the motion to drop the NHS bill. Who do I vote for now?

One thing that one can still do is to email all Lib Dem MPs give your views. Here is a list of their email addresses (via Lindy).

bakern@parliament.uk, danny.alexander.mp@parliament.uk, alan.beith.mp@parliament.uk, gordon.birtwistle.mp@parliament.uk, brookea@parliament.uk, braket@parliament.uk, brownej@parliament.uk, hernandeza@parliament.uk, burstowp@parliament.uk, lorely.burt.mp@parliament.uk, cablev@parliament.uk, menzies.campbell.mp@parliament.uk, carmichaela@parliament.uk, nick.clegg.mp@parliament.uk, mike.crockart.mp@parliament.uk, farront@parliament.uk, daveye@parliament.uk, simon.wright.mp@parliament.uk, willottj@parliament.uk, featherstonel@parliament.uk, fosterd@parliament.uk, andrew.george.mp@parliament.uk, duncan.hames.mp@parliament.uk, stephen.gilbert.mp@parliament.uk, stephenwilliamsmp@parliament.uk, kennedyc@parliament.uk, jo.swinson.mp@parliament.uk, julian.huppert.mp@parliament.uk,hunterm@parliament.uk, simon@simonhughes.org.uk, chris.huhne.mp@parliament.uk, martin.horwood.mp@parliament.uk, hemmingj@parliament.uk, david.heath.mp@parliament.uk, hancockm@parliament.uk, pagep@parliament.uk, lambn@parliament.uk, lawsd@parliament.uk, john.leech.mp@parliament.uk, stephen.lloyd.mp@parliament.uk, michaelmooremp@parliament.uk, greg.mulholland.mp@parliament.uk, teathers@parliament.uk, tessa.munt.mp@parliament.uk, john.thurso.mp@parliament.uk, david.ward.mp@parliament.uk, webbs@parliament.uk, williamsmf@parliament.uk, williamsr@parliament.uk, pughj@parliament.uk, reida@parliament.uk, contact@danrogerson.org, susan.hislop@parliament.uk, robert.smith.mp@parliament.uk, stunella@parliament.uk, ian.swales.mp@parliament.uk

And here are email addresses for (most) Lib Dem peers)

williamss@parliament.uk, walmsleyj@parliament.uk, wallacej@parliament.uk, wallacew@parliament.uk, tordoffg@parliament.uk, topeg@parliament.uk, thomascm@parliament.uk, thomass@parliament.uk, stephenn@parliament.uk, smitht@parliament.uk, shipleyj@parliament.uk, shuttd@parliament.uk, sharpm@parliament.uk, scottrc@parliament.uk, robertsr@parliament.uk, rennardc@parliament.uk, randersonj@parliament.uk, palmerm@parliament.uk, oakeshottm@parliament.uk, northoverl@parliament.uk, newbyr@parliament.uk, millers@parliament.uk, methuenr@parliament.uk, methuenr@parliament.uk, maddockd@parliament.uk, maddockd@parliament.uk, maclennanr@parliament.uk, loombar@parliament.uk, linklaterv@parliament.uk, lestera@parliament.uk, leej@parliament.uk, kramers@parliament.uk, jonesn@parliament.uk, ecem@parliament.uk, harrisa@parliament.uk, hamwees@parliament.uk, greavesa@parliament.uk, goodhartw@parliament.uk, germanm@parliament.uk, gardens@parliament.uk, falknerk@parliament.uk, ezrad@parliament.uk, dholakian@parliament.uk, cotterb@parliament.uk, clementjonest@parliament.uk, chidgeyd@parliament.uk, carlilea@parliament.uk, brintons@parliament.uk, willisg@parliament.uk, addingtond@parliament.uk , alderdicej@parliament.uk, allanr@parliament.uk, ashdownp@parliament.uk, barkere@parliament.uk, benjaminf@parliament.uk , bonhamcarterj@parliament.uk

13 March 2012. This is really last chance day. At 11 am, the Lords debate third reading of health bill and at 2 pm the Commons have emergency debate, triggered by the e-petition, which now has more than 173,000 signatures. I sent the following email to all Lib Dem peers and MPs this morning.

The idea that the changes to the health bill have solved its  problems is simply wrong. Before you vote, please read http://abetternhs.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/40points/ ,
That is written by a working GP who knows what he’s talking about.
For the truth about the 49% disaster, read this.

There are 27 professional organisations who are against the bill (see here).  Do you really understand the implications better than they do?

The vote at the lib dem conference gives you the mandate to vote according to your conscience.  Please vote to drop the bill and start again.

I voted Lib Dem at every election from 2001. If you let us down on the health bill, I will certainly not do so again.

David Colquhoun

16 March 2012. I have learned ( from Lord Shutt) that there will be a 3-line whip on Lib Dem peers to vote against Lord Owen’s amendment. And this despite the vote against the Clegg-Williams motion at the Lib Dem conference last week. This makes the much vaunted party democracy look like a bit of a joke. The only hope now is the bishops. Here is a list of their email addresses. You can also contact them through Dr Éoin Clarke’s site (from where I got the addresses)

bishop@bathwells.anglican.org, bishop@birmingham.anglican.org, chaplain@bishopofblackburn.org.uk, bishop@bristoldiocese.org, bpchester@chester.anglican.org, bishchichester@diochi.org.uk, bishop@bishopofderby.org, durham@durham.anglican.org, langrishm@parliament.uk, bshpglos@glosdioc.org.uk, bishop.christopher@cofeguildford.org.uk, bishop@hereford.anglican.org, bishop.tim@leccofe.org, bishop.lichfield@lichfield.anglican.org, bishopslodge@liverpool.anglican.org, bishop@londin.clara.co.uk, bishop@bishopscourt.manchester.anglican.org, bishop@newcastle.anglican.org, bishop@norwich.anglican.org, bishop@riponleeds-diocese.org.uk, bishop.nigel@stedmundsbury.anglican.org, bishop@bishopofwakefield.org.uk, contact@lambethpalace.org.uk, office@archbishopofyork.org

This is what I sent to them today.

Dear Bishop,

You will be aware of the widespread concerns about the commercialisation of the NHS.  No fewer than 27 medical organisations have now come out strongly against the bill and it’s clear that, despite (or because of?) over 1000 amendments, it is a real mess.

Despite the vote at the Lib Dems conference against the bill, I hear that there will be a 3-line whip in the Lords to force Lib Dem peers to vote against the very sensible proposal by Lord Owen to delay passing of the bill until the government release the assessment of the risks of passing it.  This means that the Bishops will be crucial.  I would like to ask you seriously to consider voting for Lord Owen’s motion on Monday.  The future of the National Health Service lies in your hands

Best regards
David Colquhoun

18 March 2012. Tomorrow is last hope for stopping the bill in the Lords. The 3-line whip will, I expect, ensure the defeat of Lord David Owen’s excellent amendment. The bill will probably become law. Two tweets express the impending death of the NHS quite poignantly. On 15 March @Heardin London wrote

"For a brief period during 20th century, people gave a fuck and looked after each other. Unfortunately this proved unprofitable."

and today, from @thewritertype,

"Years from now you’ll have to explain to children what the NHS was. Then you’ll have to explain what a LibDem was."

Poetry in 140 characters.

20 March 2012.

The hated bill was rammed through in the House of Commons, thanks to support from Lib Dems.

.The list of the peers and MPs who will make money out of privatisation is truly scary and deeply corrupt.

mirror

On Friday 25 August 2006, Michael Baum and I went to visit the rather palatial headquarters of the UCL Hospitals Trust (that is part of the NHS, not of UCL).  We went to see David Fish, who was, at that time, in charge of specialist hospitals.  That included world-leading hospitals like the National Hospital Queen Square, and Great Ormond Street children’s hospital.  It also includes that great national embarrassment, the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (RLHH).

It came as something of a surprise that the man in charge did not know the barmy postulates of homeopathy and he looked appropriately embarrassed when we told him.

Michael Baum is not only a cancer surgeon. but he has also taken the lead in thinking about palliative and spiritual needs of patients who suffer from cancer. Listen to his Samuel gee lecture: it is awe-inspiring. It is available in video, Concepts of Holism in Orthodox and Alternative Medicine.

The problem for UCLH Trust is that the RLHH has royal patronage   One can imagine the frantic green-ink letters that would emanate form the Quacktitioner Royal, if it were to be shut down.  Instead, we suggested that the name of the RLHH should be changed. Perhaps something like Hospital for palliative and supportive care?  Well, four years later it has been changed, but the outcome is not at all satisfactory. From September it is to be known as the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine.

What’s wrong with that?  You have to ask what is to be "integrated" with what?.  In practice it usually means integrating things that don’t work with things that do.  So not much advance there.  In fact the weasel word "integrated" is just the latest in a series of euphemisms for quackery.  First it was ‘alternative’ medicine. But that sounds a bit ‘new age’ (it is), so then it was rebranded ‘complementary medicine’.  That sounds a bit more respectable.  Now it is often "integrated medicine" (in the USA, "integrative").  That makes it sound as though it is already accepted.  It is intended to deceive. See, for example, Prince of Wales Foundation for magic medicine: spin on the meaning of ‘integrated’, and What ‘holistic’ really means.

Of course the amount of homeopathy practised at the RLHH has fallen considerably over the last few years. Already by 2007 there were signs of panic among homeopaths, They are beginning to realise that the game is up. Some of the gaps were filled with other sorts of unproven and disproved medicine.

What the hospital is called matters less than what they do, The current activities can be seen on the UCLH web site.

Services:

It would be tedious to go through all of them, but here are some samples.

The Children’s Clinic

"The mainstay of treatments offered include Homeopathy, Herbal remedies, Flower essences, Essential oils, Tissue salts and Acupuncture. We also assess nutritional status, provide dietary advice and supplementation. Psychotherapeutic techniques including Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and Visualisation are sometimes used where indicated, to gain better understanding of the presenting problems".

So a wide range of woo there. And they claim to be able to treat some potentially serious problems

"What can be treated

A wide variety of clinical conditions are being treated including:

  • Recurrent infections
  • Skin diseases such as eczema
  • Allergic disorders including asthma
  • Food intolerances and eating disorders
  • Functional developmental and learning problems
  • Behavioural disorders including ADHD (hyperactivity) and autism."

There is, of course, no evidence worth mentioning thar any of these conditions can be treated effectively by “Homeopathy, Herbal remedies, Flower essences, Essential oils, Tissue salts and Acupuncture”.

They describe their success rate thus:

An internal audit questionnaire showed that 70% of children responded well to homeopathic treatment

So, no published data, and no control group. This is insulting to any patient with half a brain.

These claims should be referred to the Advertising Standards Authority and/or Trading standards. They are almost certainly illegal under the Consumer Protection Regulations (May 2008). The UCLH Trust should be ashamed of itself.

Education Services offers mainly courses in homeopathy, the medicines that contain no medicine,

Pharmacy Services stock thousands of bottles of pills, most of which are identical sugar pills. It’s hard to imagine a greater waste of money.

The Marigold Clinic – Homeopathic Podiatry and Chiropody 

I was rather surprised to find this is still running. In 2006, I wrote about it in Conflicts of interest at the Homeopathic Hospital. It turned out that the prescription costs if the clinic were spent on Marigold paste, made by a company owned by the people who run the clinic. UCLH claimed that they were aware of this conflict of interest, but had no obligation to make it public. That is an odd ethics in itself. Even odder when I discovered that the Trust had been notified of the conflict of interest only after I’d started to ask questions.

The same people are still running the clinic. They may well be good chiropodists, If so why surround the service with woo. There are, almost needless to say, no good trials of the efficacy of marigold paste (and it isn’t homeopathic).

Conclusion

At the moment, it appears that the renaming of the RLHH is empty re-branding. No doubt UCLH Trust see homeopathy as something that brings shame on a modern medical service. But to remove the name while retaining the nonsense is simply dishonest. Let’s hope that the name change will be followed by real changes in the sort of medicine practised, Changes to real medicine, one hopes.

Other blogs on this topic

Gimpyblog was first, with Farewell to the RLHH, hello to the RLHIM

Quackometer posted An Obituary: Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, 1849-2010

Follow-up

Jump to follow-up

i love nhs logo

Conservatives in the USA have been lying about the NHS on a massive scale. As Simon Hoggart comments today “There are few tribes more loathsome than the American right”.

In the forefront has been a far-right lobby group, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR).  Even I was surprised to read in the Washington Post

“The campaign is being coordinated by CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the “Swift boat” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, John F. Kerry”

CRC Public Relations is a conservative PR firm previously known as Creative Response Concepts. ‘Creative’ appears to mean ‘lying’, but I guess that is what PR is all about.

The founder of CPR, Rick Scott, has an interesting background. According to Stephen Barrett

“In 1987, he founded and became chief operating officer of a hospital chain that grew into the 23 billion-dollars-a-year Columbia/HCA. In 1997, a few weeks after the FBI raided HCA hospitals in five states, Scott was ousted as CEO and three executives were indicted on charges of Medicare fraud. The FBI’s investigation found that the hospital chain had been overbilling Medicare and giving kickbacks to doctors who steered patients to its hospitals. The overbilling included upcoding lesser procedures to get higher reimbursements and billing for lab tests that were not medically necessary and were not ordered by physicians. The situation was settled with a set of guilty pleas and criminal and civil fines totalling $1.7 billion. The U.S. Department of Justice referred to the matter as the “largest health care fraud case in U.S. history.”

Disgracefully, Karol Sikora, a former oncologist at the Hammersmith Hospital, supported CPR on US television. See Karol Sikora makes a fool of himself at NHSblogdoctor. I quote

“Karol Sikora had been duped by a slick American businessman into providing a “rent-a-quote” service for a notorious right-wing American organisation”

This post was reproduced on the US site, Trusted.MD

Sikora now works for the UK’s only private university and a private cancer treatment company. He is also famous for claiming,
falsely,
to be a professor at Imperial College (he has an honorary contract with the Imperial College Hospital Trust but nothing with the University).  And for promoting a load of nonsense about
alternative medicine (a lot more on that coming up shortly).

This is why love the NHS

Europe as a whole gets better health care for less money than in the USA.  The fact that every US doctor has a financial interest in ordering expensive treatments whether they are needed or not,
is an obscenity.  The fact that over 40 million Americans have no insurance is an obscenity (see The brutal truth about America’s healthcare).

Just look at the numbers (Source: WHO/OECD Health Data 2009)

Health spending as a share of GDP.
US 16%     UK 8.4%

Public spending on healthcare (% of total spending on healthcare)
US 45%   UK 82%

Health spending per head
US $7,290    UK $2,992

Practising physicians (per 1,000 people)
US 2.4   UK 2.5

Nurses (per 1,000 people)
US 10.6   UK 10.0

Acute care hospital beds (per 1,000 people)
US 2.7   UK 2.6

Life expectancy:
US 78   UK 80

Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)
US 6.7   UK 4.8

My experience

Yes I know this is anecdote, but it matters a lot to me. I already posted a version of this story, but this seems like the time to repeat it.

On December 13th 1984, my wife had a subarachnoid haemorrhage when she was seven months pregnant.  After an initial misdiagnosis by an obstetrician at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, she was moved to UCH and diagnosed very quickly.  The next morning I was called to see the neurourgeon, the great Alan Crockard. He was sitting surrounded by medical students some of whom I’d taught the previous year. He told me my wife had had a subarachnoid haemorrhage (at 33!) and they would operate straight away. And “I have to ask you, if we can save only the mother or the baby, which shall it be”. It’s as well to write that down because even 24 years later I can’t say it without a lump rising in my throat.

That same day she had neurosurgery to pin an aneurysm at the Maida Vale Neurosurgical Hospital, part of the UCLH group (it no longer exists).  The surgeon, Alan Crockard, came out of theatre after five hours, looking rather tired and said “it was adhered to the optic chiasma on one side and about a millimetre from the pituitary on the other.  It was a bit tricky but I think we got it”.  Obstetricians were in theatre too because all this was done with the baby still in situ

After a week in intensive care, under heavy sedation, Margaret’s blood pressure was not low enough and they decided to deliver the baby.  At about 4 pm on a snowy Christmas Eve, a team of neurosurgeons and a team of obstetricians gathered and soon after, Andrew Stuart Colquhoun emerged in a small incubator to be whisked off in an ambulance to the Special Care Baby Unit at UCH (run, at that time, by Osmund Reynolds). Christmas day was spent in the hospital, with Margaret’s mother.  Andrew weighed 1.4 kg at birth, but by Christmas day he had pulled out his ventilator himself, and was doing fine. He was so tiny that it was a couple of days before I dared to hold him. The Unit had racks of doll-sized clothes, knitted by volunteers. The care was superb. Andrew's birth

Andrew (at 9 days) and Dad. Jan 2, 1985. Click for album.

Once Margaret was well enough, she was given a side room in a neurosurgical ward with a cot for Andrew by her bed, an arrangement that gave the neurosurgical nurses some fun. They were in UCLH continuously until 27th April before Margaret had recovered enough to go home, [Full photo album here]

Now they are both fine.and Andrew is 6′ 7″ (200.5 cm)..

It is episodes like this that make one very proud of the NHS.  She and Andrew were in hospital continuously for more than four months.  Not a penny changed hands.  Heaven knows what it would have cost in the USA, or even of insurance would have covered such a gargantuan bill.

Margaret & Andrew, with carer, Anna, June 2, 1985

Andrew (left) playing cricket in Bangladesh, Feb 2005.

My own experience is trivial compared with that of Margaret and Andrew, but it has been as near perfect as anyone could wish.  I had a lumbar spinal fusion (L3 – L4) in 1995, after several attempts at less drastic solutions.  I’ve had two artificial hips.  They allowed me to walk across the Alps for my 65th birthday. Then a few trivial things like bilateral hernia and DVT (I had been scanned and was on anticoagulant therapy within 4 hours of walking into UCLH’s Accident and Emergency).  And now it looks as though I’ll be getting a partial or total nephrectomy too.

And not a penny has changed hands.

The NHS is a beautiful thing.  OK it has has the usual excessive number of managers and HR-bollocks, like most big companies.  It isn’t perfect but it is a great deal closer to perfection
than the US system.

 

Crossing the Alps
Approaching Seescharte (2600 m) at 08.20, 21 August 2001. Memminger Hütte visible below. With fused vertebrae and right prosthetic hip, thanks to the NHS. (Click for bigger picture.)

Bush may have gone, but a large fraction of Americans seem to be unrepentant Bush-ites. Almost all of my many friends in the USA think more or less like I do. Even Obama is to the right of most European conservatives, The other 48% are to the right of Attila the Hun. The extent of the polarisation that still exists is nothing short of terrifying. 

Thanks to the great Aneurin Bevan who established the NHS in 1948 for ordinary people like me, in the face of fierce opposition from the medical establishment.

” . . . no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”
—Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear, p100

 

Bevan statue
Statue of Bevan in Cardiff

 

Ah well, The Daily Mash. is always there when you need a (wry) laugh

Follow-up

Paul Krugman in the New York Times is magnificent as always. In The Swiss Menace he points out that Obama’s scheme is nothing like the NHS anyway, but more like that in Switzerland.

“The plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland — which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn’t a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.”

“In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.”

“So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.”

Comparing US and UK cancer statistics . As Ben Goldacre says, “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”.   There’s an interesting analysis at Cancer Research UK

The US uses the PSA blood test far more widely than we do in the UK – despite questions over how effective it is at spotting cancers that would actually kill, as opposed to those that cause no symptoms.  As a result, the USA has one of the highest recorded rates of prostate cancer in the world.

So although it’s undoubtedly ‘better’ at spotting prostate cancers, it’s also fair to say that some of these Americans will never die from their disease.  This ‘overdiagnosis‘ inflates the survival statistics, at the expense of ‘overtreating‘ men – which is expensive and can cause long-term side effects (which can need further treatment).

In fact the age-standardised death rates per 100,000 people are almost the same in the UK (all races) when compared with the USA (whites only). What is different is that far more cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the USA. If the rate of ‘real’ (potentially fatal) prostate cancer were similar in both countries then both countries have much the same success in treating it, If, on the other hand, US men had a genuinely higher incidence of real prostate cancer, the US would be doing better, There is no way to distinguish between these two interpretations,

Shibata Fig 1

Herbal medicine is, unlike homeopathy, not ridiculous, It is merely Pharmacology, as practised up to circa 1900.  Whereas good trials have now shown acupuncture to be sham and homeopathy to be a placebo, there has been very little good research on herbs.

Most herbalism could fairly be described giving to sick patients an unknown dose of a substance with unknown efficacy and unknown safety.

How odd, then, to visit the Royal Society of Medicine to be greeted thus.

Just look at the words!

“Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has developed over thousands of years”

That’s partly true

“and provides a comprehensive and systematic understanding of the natural world and the treatment of the human body.”

and that is total nonsense. TCM provides no understanding and virtually none of it is known to be useful for treating anything.

Another poster at the RSM exhibition provides some of the explanation.


What on earth, one wonders, do they mean by “making efforts to modernise TCM “? So far, the idea of modernising TCM doesn’t seem to include any great effort to find out if it works.


Much of the promotion of TCM seems to be not so much ‘ancient wisdom’, but modern nationalist propaganda by the Chinese government.



The history is fascinating, but you won’t learn it from the posters on display at the exhibition.

“The Daoguang emperor though it [acupuncture] was a barrier to medical progress and removed it from the curriculum of the Imperial Medical Institute,”

“By the start of the twentieth century, acupuncture was extinct in the West and dormant in the East. It might have fallen out of favour permanently, but it suddenly experienced a revival in 1949 as a direct result of the communist revolution and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Chairman Mao Tse-tung engineered a resurgence in traditional Chinese medicine, which included not just acupuncture but also Chinese herbal medicine and other therapies ”

“His motivation was partly ideological, inasmuch as he wanted to reinforce a sense of national pride in Chinese medicine. However he was also driven by necessity. He had promised to deliver affordable healthcare .. . . ”

“Mao did not care whether traditional Chinese medicine worked, as long as he could keep the masses contented. In fact, his personal physician, Zhisui Li, wrote a memoir entitled ‘The Private Life of Chairman Mao’, in which he quoted Mao as saying”

“Even though I believe we should promote Chinese medicine, I personally do not believe in it. I don’t take Chinese medicine.” “

Or, as put more succinctly by Shapiro

“You would never know that TCM was fashioned in the twentieth century, as we shall see, from a ragbag of therapies in post-revolutionary China.”

Rose Shapiro, Suckers, how alternative medicine makes fools of us all.

Why is the Royal Society of Medicine allowing such mendacious posters?  As it happens, I and a friend were visiting the RSM to see their Academic Dean, with a view to finding out why the RSM had failed to take any public position on alternative medicine.  The answer appeared to be money, and that was the answer to why the TCM exhibition was being held on their premises too.  The Dean no more believed in TCM than we did, but, well, they need the income.  He pointed out (looking suitably sheepish) that the address given for the exhibition was not the RSM, but Number 1 Wimpole Street (that, of course, is also the address of the RSM).

Ah, so that’s OK then.

It has to be said that the RSM isn’t alone in its spineless attitude.  Both the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have failed to make any clear condemnation of mystical medicine.  This is in stark contrast to just about every relevant scientific society (here is a summary).

It is a mystery to me why much of medicine should still be dominated by a mindset that seems to have lagged 200 years behind every other science. Perhaps medicine  is just too complicated.

UCL Hospitals’ skeleton in the cupboard

Make no mistake, University College London Hospital is top class.  The UCLH Trust. runs seven hospitals All but one of them are excellent.  But in 2002 the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital was acquired as part of the UCLH group, to the intense embarrassment of UCL scientists.

Let’s start with the good bit.  Usually I don’t like anecdotes, so just think of this as a vote of thanks, not evidence.

A personal history of UCH

I owe UCLH a lot personally.  On December 13th 1984, my wife had
a subarachnoid haemorrhage when she was seven months pregnant.  After misdiagnosis at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, she was moved to UCH and diagnosed very quickly.  The next day she had neurosurgery to pin an aneurysm at the Maida Vale Neurosurgical Hospital, part of the UCLH group (it no longer exists).  The surgeon, Alan Crockard, came out of theatre after five hours, looking rather tired and said “it was adhered to the optic chiasma on one side and about a millilmetre from the pituitary on the other.  It was a bit tricky but I think we got it”.

After a week in intensive care, under heavy sedation, Margaret’s blood pressure was not low enough and they decided to deliver the baby.  At about 4 pm on a snowy Christmas Eve, a team of neurosurgeons and a team of obstetricians gathered and soon after, Andrew Stuart Colquhoun emerged in a small incubator to be whisked off in an ambulance to the Special Care Baby Unit at UCH (run, at that time, by Osmund Reynolds).. Christmas day was spent in the hospital, with Margaret’s mother.  Andrew weighed 1.4 kg at birth, but by Christmas day he had pulled out his ventilator himself, and was doing fine. He was so tiny that it was a couple of days before I dared to hold him. The Unit had racks of doll-sized clothes, knitted by volunteers. Andrew's birth

Andrew (at 9 days) and Dad. Jan 2, 1985. Click for album..



Once Margaret was well enough, she was given a side room in a neurosurgical ward with a cot for Andrew by her bed, an arrangement that gave the neurosurgical nurses some fun. They were in UCLH continuously until 27th April before Margaret had recovered enough to go home, [Full photo album here]

Now they are both fine.and Andrew is 6′ 7″ (200.5 cm)..

It is episodes like this that make one very proud of the NHS.  Heaven knows what it would have cost in the USA.

Margaret & Andrew, with carer, Anna, June 2, 1985

Andrew playing cricket in Bangladesh, Feb 2005.



But now the the less desirable side of UCLH

Herbs and homeopaths at UCLH

Recently I was sent the UCLH Annual Review 2007 – 2008.  There was a lot of good stuff in it and worth a read despite there being too much hyperbole and too many pictures of men in dark suits.  But buried among all the high tech stuff, what do we find but an advertisement for 1900-style pharmacology in the form of the herbal clinic at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, accompanied by a load of utterly inaccurate information from the TV botanist, David Bellamy.

Take, for example, the claim about Devil’s Claw for osteoarthritis. Even alternative medicine advocates said “The authors concluded that there are insufficient high-quality trials to determine the safety and efficacy of Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) in the treatment of osteoarthritis, and that definitive trials are needed.”


Unbelievably, they are actually boasting that it is the first herbal clinic in the UK to be based in an NHS hospital.  In fact, of course, it is a step backwards by about 100 years.

Reading between the lines, I’d guess that the opening of this clinic has a subtext.  It is well known that funding for homeopathy has dried up (partly as a result of our letter to NHS Trusts that appeared in the
Times in May 2006
).  No doubt the advocates of mystical medicine are trying to fill the gaps left by the departure of some of the homeopathy.  .

There have been problems before with the herbal activities at the RLHH before (see Conflicts of Interest at the Homeopathic Hospital). It appeared that the Khans, who run the Marigold homeopathic podiatry clinic (no, seriously, it is real) were largely prescribing a herbal product that was made by their own company. without even the hospital trust, never mind the patients, being made aware of it.   In normal medicine this would be regarded as a rather serious offence, but as far as I know, nothing was ever done about it.


The ethics of alternative medicine are truly one of life’s great mysteries.

Reading further in the annual review, we come to the page about the RLHH.   The homeopathy side must really have run down because it seems to have diversified into selling cosmetics and groceries. That sounds like desperation.


Good heavens, they sell “chemical-free sun cream”. One wonders what it can be made of, if not chemicals. This is the language of low-grade advertising agencies, not what one expects from an NHS hospital trust.

But next to this there is a much more interesting item. Just look at the last sentence.

“Changing the name of the hospital to reflect its status as a centre of excellence for the integration of the best of conventional and complementary medicine is currently being considered, “

I wonder if this could possibly have anything to do with the fact that Michael Baum and I visited the Trust headquarters in August 2006 to propose that the RLHH might be turned into a centre of supportive and palliative care?

It would be nice to think so. But it seems they haven’t gone nearly far enough yet. If all they do is replace the waning homeopathy
with herbalism and acupuncture, we won’t be much closer to the 21st century.

We know they are under pressure from their royal patrons, but that, in a constitutional monarchy, is simply not acceptable.



Michael Baum is a cancer surgeon who has taken a particular interest in palliative and supportive care.  He is someone whose views should be taken seriously.  He is also the author of the magnificent “An open letter to the Prince of Wales: with respect, your highness, you’ve got it wrong” Here is a quotation from that letter.  The UCLH Trust should bear it in mind.

The power of my authority comes with a knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years of active involvement in cancer research. I’m sensitive to the danger of abusing this power and, as a last resort, I know that the General Medical Council (GMC) is watching over my shoulder to ensure I respect a code of conduct with a duty of care that respects patients’ dignity and privacy and reminds me that my personal beliefs should not prejudice my advice.


Your power and authority rest on an accident of birth. Furthermore, your public utterances are worthy of four pages, whereas, if lucky, I might warrant one. I don’t begrudge you that authority and we probably share many opinions about art and architecture, but I do beg you to exercise your power with extreme caution when advising patients with life threatening diseases to embrace unproven therapies. There is no equivalent of the GMC for the monarchy, so it is left either to sensational journalism or, more rarely, to the quiet voice of loyal subjects such as myself to warn you that you may have overstepped the mark. It is in the nature of your world to be surrounded by sycophants (including members of the medical establishment hungry for their mention in the Queen’s birthday honours list) who constantly reinforce what they assume are your prejudices. Sir, they patronise you! Allow me this chastisement.



Baum is a truly good man.


Follow-up

The photo album chronicling the birth of my son, is really just for family and friends, but at least one blog picked up on the wider significance.


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