The UK's National Health Service, the NHS, is funded from taxation.
A committee of MPs is to produce a report soon regarding NHS spending on homeopathic water - I decline to use the term 'remedies'. This is an ongoing saga - many eminent scientists in the UK have spoken out against the use of NHS funds for homeopathic 'cures' while some evidence-based treatments are not being funded.
“At a time when we are struggling to gain access for our patients to Herceptin, which is absolutely proven to extend survival in breast cancer, I find it appalling that the NHS should be funding a therapy like homeopathy that is utterly bogus,”Michael Baum, Emeritus Professor of Surgery, University College London,
quoted in timesonline May 2006.
"I have now published more than 100 papers on homeopathy and I am quite clear about its efficacy: you may as well take a glass of water than a homeopathic medicine,"Edzard Ernst, reported in Guardian
"If you think about the rows around things like the prescription of Alzheimer's drugs on the NHS, you are expecting people to look at the evidence to understand why certain drugs are available for people with a condition and certain are not. Then you throw the evidence up in the air and say that if people want it [a homeopathic medicine], they should have it. We just lose, as a society, the dividing line, the ability to talk to people about the evidence behind their medicines.Tracy Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science reported in Guardian
Cristal Sumner, chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association, has a rather interesting take on the topic of NHS spending. She would make a fine economist. She points to the undeniable truth that the NHS spends only 4 million pounds on homeopathic water - my terminology, not hers. If homeopathic water is banned from the NHS, she observes, patients will then be prescribed medicine at a higher cost.
Sumner also pointed to evidence in the British Medical Journal that said adverse drug reactions in 2004 cost around £466m per year; and more than a quarter of a million patients were admitted to hospital in the UK because of harmful effects after taking drugs.Reported in Guardian
When you put those arguments together and take the reductio ad absurdum route to a policy decision, it is indisputable that if the NHS bought only homeopathic water and no medicines it would save enough money to buy a small nation.
Let's do some simple maths:
Currently the NHS spends - on "drugs and other supplies" - GBP 20,000,000,000.
Let us suppose only 50% covers drugs alone. - GBP 10,000,000,000.
Add on the 466 million cost of adverse reactions - GBP 10,466,000,000.
The percentage of genuine treatments as against homeopathy is not published, as far as I am aware. One is led to wonder why. Let us be generous to the homeopaths and use a very conservative figure: 0.001% of treatments.
What if the homeopathy NHS share were 100% ?
Taking 0.001% of the NHS budget as being worth GBP 4,000,000 we get a potential entire NHS drugs budget of GBP 4,000,000,000. Now add on the 'adverse reactions' savings of GBP 466,000,000.
Now, if we follow the chain of logic according to Cristal Sumner we immediately save, according to my calculations, GBP 6,466,000,000 annually.
Is it really plain water, or is there something else in it?
If, by switching 100% to homeopathy the taxpayer can save around GBP 6,466,000,000 annually, should the taxpayer raise any concerns?
Should the scientific abilities of Cristal Sumner be lauded, or should the scientific community respond to her ideas with:
"BONG! - Next contestant please!"