Thursday, 22 April 2010

If it ducks like a quack...

When I was starting up the Brighton Skeptics in the Pub, I invited MEP, Brighton MP candidate and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas to come and speak in defence of the party's ludicrous health policies. These policies included a glowing endorsement of all alternative medicines, and the promise to ensure that, in particular, homeopathy and herbal medicine would not be subjected to same regulation and evidential claims as other medicines.
Here's a few choice bits:
HE300 Health services must be effective, efficient, comprehensive, accountable and equally available to all. Effective health services will deploy a broad range of interventions, operative at many levels: pharmaceuticals, surgery, psychological therapies, complementary and alternative medicine, and community and social interventions will be used where appropriate. All services will be available without charge at the time of need. 
HE317 When assessing the degree of control required over the availability of medicines, a balance must be reached between the right of the individual to freedom of choice, and the duty of society to protect the individual from the consequences of unwise choices. We are concerned to protect users from unanticipated adverse effects of novel pharmaceutical compounds, some of which may not be evident until the drug has been in use for many years. The Green Party proposes the founding of a regulatory agency with responsibility for natural medicines, including nutritional supplements, medicinal plants and herbal remedies, essential oils and homeopathic remedies. This agency should be founded on the principles of:
  1. Freedom of information and full labelling of ingredients.
  2. High standards of safety in production methods.
  3. No animal testing.
  4. Strong encouragement towards organic production.
  5. A ban on GM ingredients.
However when the drugs have been in use for many generations, as with many natural medicines, the need for statutory control is diminished. Measures will therefore be taken to protect the availability of established herbal and homeopathic remedies, subject to basic safeguards.
There's also some rubbish about amalgam fillings being evil, but we won't go into that here.

Lucas has also personally endorsed CAM on her blog. Again, in case google's cache expires, here's some choice pieces.
....the best treatment programmes probably dip into both conventional and alternative medicine (reliance on alternative alone would probably be unwise) the Green Party has been way ahead of the game for years in advocating this greater integration of complementary and alternative medicines into NHS services.
Here in Brighton we are lucky to be served by an excellent network of complementary and alternative medicine practicioners.(sic)
The Green Party would fully integrate their services and expertise into NHS treatment plans, not only improving patient choices but helping to boost this important sector of the local economy.
Complementary and alternative medicine may be written off by drug companies and other sceptics as "mumbo jumbo" medicine, but recent evidence strongly contradicts such claims.
Therapies offered included acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy administered by local practitioners. 
Leaving aside the truth or falsehood of these claims for a moment, except to say that there is no good evidence that most of the mentioned treatments are good for much at all, what is most interesting is that all these references are now expunged from the websites they were once on. The party as a whole seems to have had a bit of an about-face on the topic, as is evidenced by this post by a pro-evidence green party blogger. They have abandoned the idea that anything will be exempt from regulation, and that any treatments are above needing to have evidence for their efficacy. Now of course we know what some people regard as sufficient evidence (fuck-all in many cases) so while this is encouraging, it doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. You see, I and a few of my sceptical friends, have strong sympathies with the Green Party's ethos, just not with certain specific policies. The problem really is that if they can't be trusted to seek out genuine evidence in the arena of medicine, it doesn't bode well for their ability to find proper scientific solutions to climate-change. I for one don't want to be betting the future of life on this planet on Chakras, chanting and dream-catchers.
However, this just wasn't concrete enough for me. I wanted some statement from the party, not just a quiet removal of some idiotic statements. I need something that says "The Green Party, due to an examination of the evidence, have abandoned their goals of promoting and integrating alternative medicine except where it can be proven to work in properly controlled trials conducted with the rigour expected in the field of evidence-based medicine" so I wrote to Dr Lucas again:

Hi Dr Lucas MEP,

You may remember that some months ago I invited you to speak on the  topic of the green party's policies on alternative "medicine" at the newly formed Brighton "Skeptics in the Pub" meeting. I notice that all traces of these leanings have been expunged from your blog, the  website and stated policies? Does this mark a change in the direction on this topic for the party? Or merely that you no longer wish to publicise these goals in light of the recent negative publicity toward Homeopathy and Chiropractic?  If this is a genuine change in direction, and you could provide me with a statement to this effect, I would be more than happy to spread  it around the "Skeptical" community, which I suspect may gain you a  significant number of votes, my own among them.

I fully expected to be ignored, as I had been the first time, so much to my surprise after 5 days I received this:

Dear Tim,

Thank you for your email. The offices here are exceptionally busy, so this  reply is simply to acknowledge receipt of your message and let you know that a full response will be sent as soon as possible.

Kind regards,

Cath Miller
Constituency Coordinator and Researcher
Office of Dr Caroline Lucas
Green Party MEP for SE England
 Blimey, maybe I'd got her all wrong? Then, only 3 days later:

Dear Tim,

Thank you for your email, which Caroline has asked me to respond to on her  behalf.

Neither she nor I quite understand what you mean when you state that all mention of alternative medicine and therapies have been removed from Caroline's website. Her blog on the MEP site was suspended recently for practical reasons but all past entries are available via the search option. Also, the only changes to the Green Party's policy website will be those that reflect the result of conference votes by members. I can tell you that our General Election manifesto contains a commitment to ensure that complementary medicines that are cost-effective and have been shown to work are made available on the NHS. Our supporting policy documents say that appropriate methods of assessment will be developed for both synthetic pharmaceuticals and natural medicines, involving practitioners expert in their respective uses. We want to make sure this process is driven by clinical need rather than either political or commercial influence and will also regulate all alternative healthcare practitioners.
I hope that helps and thank you again for getting in touch.

Kind regards,

Cath Miller
Constituency Coordinator and Researcher
Office of Dr Caroline Lucas
Green Party MEP for SE England
 So, we're left with a few possibilities; either:
  1. Dr Lucas and her coordinator do not know that the blog article in question has been removed from her website, or that the quack policies have gone.
  2. She is aware of the above and wants to cover it up, and was unaware that we could still read it on Google cache.
I don't really like either of these options. My trepidation is further compounded by the fact that their new policy says this:

H326 The safety and regulation of medicines will be controlled by a single agency. This agency will ensure that medicines meet minimum safety standards, provide clear labelling of both ingredients and side-effects. The agency will cover existing synthetic medicines as well as those considered as natural or alternative medicines.

HE327 We shall improve the protection provided under the law to users of medicines. Prescribed and over-the-counter medicines will be monitored more rigorously with regard to both efficacy and toxicity. Appropriate methods of assessment will be developed for both synthetic pharmaceuticals and natural medicines, involving practitioners expert in their respective uses. Assessment will not be dependent on commercial interest in production. All information gathered during the process of assessment and licensing shall be publicly available.
It is abundantly obvious that even "expert" CAM practitioners are in no position to judge the efficacy of their "remedies" or "therapies", since they believe that they work at all. This doesn't look like an about face; it looks like a cover-up.


Timmeh! said...

OH, btw, I responded to their denial that anything had gone away, sending them the links to google cache.
I await their response eagerly and, probably, indefinitely.

Timmeh! said...

Meh before they looked, google's cache of the page expired. Luckily I'd taken my own copy.