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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 08:18 GMT 09:18 UK
Head-to-head: Complementary medicine
Homeopathy
Homeopathy is controversial
Some of Britain's leading doctors have urged NHS trusts to stop using complementary therapies.

They argue there is little firm evidence that techniques such as homoeopathy work.

And they say it is wrong that complementary methods are not subject to the same vigorous tests as orthodox medicines.

However, many others - including the Prince of Wales - believe complementary medicine has a key role to play.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL BAUM, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON

I am all in favour of treatments that make people better, and treatments that make people feel better, but there is the issue of evidence: how do we know that what we are witnessing is a real effect, or a placebo effect?

It does not matter if the placebo is non-toxic and cheap, but if the NHS is spending good money on placebos at the cost of not providing effective medicines, then it does matter.

We need clinical trials to demonstrate that these placebo therapies actually enhance quality of life
Professor Michael Baum

I have been involved in the development of aromatase inhibitors (for breast cancer) for 12 years and we have had to cross every single hurdle.

All those hurdles are right and proper. All we are asking for is a single standard.

Let homoeopathy jump over the hurdles that we have had to jump over to prove that aromatase inhibitors improve the outcome for breast cancer.

Homoeopathy can't do any harm, because there is nothing in it. But at the same time the University College Hospital London Trust has spent, I think, 20m on refurbishing the Royal Homoeopathic Hospital.

If that sum of money was spent on making available herceptin (for breast cancer) and the aromatase inhibitors then we could be saving, in my own health district, about 600 lives a year.

We need clinical trials to demonstrate that these placebo therapies actually enhance quality of life.

There have been umpteen overviews of all the available trials which fail to come up with any evidence that it does anything.

DR PETER FISHER, ROYAL LONDON HOMEOPATHIC HOSPITAL

There is a considerable body of positive evidence that homoeopathy works. Most of the meta-analyses - the pooling of statistical results - have been positive.

This suggestion amounts to a form of medical apartheid
Dr Peter Fisher

There was one highly publicised one last summer which was negative, which was based on eight trials.

They did not tell us at the time which eight trials, but they subsequently did, and it turned out that the eight trials were very carefully selected. If you had selected seven or nine, you would have got a quite different result.

But ultimately it is the testimony of the patients that means we are still around and thriving.

This suggestion amounts to a form of medical apartheid: any therapy that cannot trace its origins to the bio-medical model should be excluded from the NHS.

I don't know the mechanism of action of homoeopathy, nobody does. But there is scientific evidence to support it.

The main referees to our breast cancer service are Professor Baum's colleagues - the cancer specialists.

Let's take acupuncture, which has been shown to be effective for osteoarthritis and migraine.

Our hospital was the first to introduce acupuncture in the health service in 1972. If the sort of ideas that are being advocated now had held at that time this service would never have been introduced.



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