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Socialism and homeopathy: what’s the quack?

Was I not copied in on the email that said socialism and homeopathy were intrinsically linked? I wouldn’t have listened but it would have been nice to know. Though I suspect there is no such email knocking about. Which is all the more disturbing. Why do some socialists support this stuff?

My mate Dr Amanjit Jhund yesterday reported for Labour List that the Socialist Health Association have come out in support of homeopathy. As he said:

On a facebook post yesterday the Official SHA account stated “Homeopathy does no harm and its cheap. NHS wastes money in much worse ways”.

The argument, not denied to be authored by SHA director Martin Rathfelder, is a non-starter. Many things can do no harm and be cheap, but is it worth it? And of course it is true that the NHS wastes money in worse ways, but does this justify spending on homeopathic treatments? No of course it doesn’t.

What can be said about homeopathy is that often it is better than extremely terrible news; if it is found that nothing can be done for a patient, to prescribe them something can offer some semblance of hope. While it is clearly unethical to deceive people, I might be able to understand the instinct to offer a noble lie if it means that an individual will have something to hold on to.

This is a concern for some health professionals, awkward about telling someone that essentially there is nothing more they can do. I do have some sympathy for this and I don’t think many could not. But there are surely better ways. Good counselling should be something that calms and prepares, come what may. What it really doesn’t call for is the systematic buying in of various different treatments that don’t stack up with good science.

Though this is my bugbear of homeopathic “cures”. My concern here is about socialist appeals to it. Benoît Jules Mure was probably the socialist with the most justification for it. A French traveller and medic, after contracting tuberculosis he himself decided to try and cure it. During his attempt he became adept to homeopathic practices which he was able to practice in places like Sicily and Malta, before settling in Brazil in 1840, then dying 12 years later in Cairo, Egypt.

His interest and practice of it was born out of the desperation to rid himself of a potentially lethal disease. But what are the excuses of socialists today? An Early Day Motion in 2010 in support of NHS homeopathic hospitals was signed up to by John McDonnell, Alan Simpson and Jeremy Corbyn. As the A Very Public Sociologist website asked at the time: “What possible motive could these otherwise well-respected socialists have for backing this quackery?”

I ask the same question today.


  1. Roger says:

    And lets not forget that current Labour Health spokesperson Diane Abbott also signed that imbecilic EDM – in fact in the default alphabetical order her name is right there at the top of the list.

    I did wonder if this could be explained by the presence of NHS homeopathic ‘hospitals’ in a constituency as even the most rigorous rationalist can’t be altogether blamed for supporting institutions that bring jobs to their area (looked at those who lobbied for casinos) – but depending on which source you look at there are only 3 or 4 such places in the UK.
    and in fact only one such MP (Frank Dobson) signed the motion.

    So what’s the excuse for the other 205 signatories?

  2. Chris says:

    I was also disturbed at some of the people from the left I have seen defend homeopathy when the subject was raised after Hunt’s reshuffle into Health.

    I think one possible explanation for this is that on the left authority is often viewed with suspicion, and so the idea that we should deny a patient who wants homeopathy that choice because of a doctors say so didn’t sit easily.

    What increased this feeling was the idea that because even if homeopathy wasn’t greatly effective, i wasn’t actively harmful.

    I think both those reasons are wholly wrong.

    Patient choice is all well and good but those choices need to be informed to be worth anything. If we’re telling people that homeopathy is availabl on the NHS we give it credibility. It is not effective, homeopathy has no effect beyond the placebo, and to suggest otherwise to patients is a lie and means their choice is not informed.

    Secondly, the idea that it is not harmful is also wrong, and I’ll give an example from experience to demonstrate one way it causes great damage.

    A patient I met in a GP clinic had several suspicious changes to their bowel on scan, and so were advised to have them removed. A fairly simple surgery which would have solved the problem. Instead, they decided on advice from their homeopath to try ‘natural remedies’ first.

    A year later the patient reappeared at clinic with much worsened symptoms and on examination had now untreatable terminal cancer.

    Homeopathy might just be water, but it can still kill. The left should give it no support, and certainly shouldn’t sanction its use in the NHS.

  3. Chris says:

    I don’t think it’s got anything to do with socialism. This isn’t really something that’s covered by socialist ideology and as far as I can see these are just some people’s personal opinions.

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