Jeremy Hunt and homeopathy. It’s a red rag to a bull.
— Edzard Ernst (@EdzardErnst) May 8, 2014
— Simon Singh (@SLSingh) May 8, 2014
While it’s tempting to get all angry on twitter about this, I have defended Hunt before, and feel compelled to do so again in fairness to the stick he is getting.
Before defending Jeremy Hunt, a bit of background about the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), which is important to this story. Back in early 2013 Professor Dame Sally Davies made her views on homeopathy pretty clear.
Homeopathy was condemned as ‘rubbish’ by Britain’s chief medical officer yesterday, who admitted she is ‘perpetually surprised’ it is available on the NHS.
Professor Dame Sally Davies also described homeopaths as ‘peddlers’ and spoke of her concern that they can prescribe pills and potions to treat malaria and other illnesses.
Giving evidence to an influential committee of MPs, Dame Sally said that homeopathy doesn’t work past the placebo effect.
That’s pretty unequivocal. I am fairly certain that Hunt is well aware of these views.
Buzzfeed reports that Hunt requested the CMO to review three trials of homeopathy. She wasn’t impressed. I have to admit, if Hunt had randomly decided to inflict these studies on the CMO I’d find it pretty strange and concerning, but he didn’t. The Guardian reports:
Sources close to the health secretary said Hunt had simply been passing on the reports to the chief medical officer after they were given to him by an MP. “He does not express an opinion on homeopathy and he is not an advocate,” one source said. “An MP gave Jeremy these reports and asked him to look into them. Because he does not have an opinion, he passed them on to the chief medical officer and asked her to look into them. He was just the conduit. He expressed the chief medical officer’s opinion when he wrote back to the MP.”
As noted at the start of this post, her views are pretty robust, as were her comments on the studies sent to him from an MP (I’m guessing Tredinick). Hunt would have known what her answer would have been before he even sent the studies on to her. Faced with some like David Tredinnick, he seems to me have done the right thing. He didn’t set NICE off on some sort of wild homeopathic goose chase, He didn’t express a view on homeopathy, he got someone who already had strong science-based views on homeopathy to quickly review the papers.
So the good news continues. Homeopathy’s decline in the NHS continues under the coalition government, continuing the trend under the last Labour government. Jeremy Hunt continues to allow his advisors to make scientific judgments, rather than expressing his own opinions (pro or anti).
And that 2007 early day motion continues to haunt him, ensuring Hunt can never do anything to help homeopaths, even if he wanted to.