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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Homeopathic First Aid

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This is a story of a man in a hurry, in a hospital, and a brief encounter with homeopathy. I intend to follow up my experience more fully soon, when I go back to said hospital, but for now, and from memory...

...I had cause today to visit Lytham St. Anne's spanking new Primary Care Centre, which brings together doctors, pharmacists, X-ray facilities, minor surgery unit under one shiny, PFI-financed roof. The centre was developed by the Medic X group, who also run the pharmacy. In the waiting area for the pharmacy is a health care library, where you can buy books on all sorts of ailments, written under the auspices of the BMA. Also in the waiting area is a snazzy, touch-screen computer.

Geek that I am, I could not help sidling up to have a play. There, nine colourful buttons were arrayed, promising advice on healthy eating, stopping smoking, and other digital versions of those infinite advice leaflets that clutter surgeries. And, at the bottom, was a button for "Natural Medicine." Now since I have blogged on bad science in the past, regular readers will not be surprised to know that my interest was piqued, and I clicked through.

There, a list of further options appeared, including herbal remedies, acupuncture, and - you guessed it - homeopathy. In a hurry, because the surgery was about to close, I scanned the further options with horror. I clicked on "First Aid" and was advised that if I got a splinter, I should take 30C of (insert obscure name I can't remember), which would "gently expel the intrusion from the wound" (I paraphrase, but that's more or less it). I clicked on "Stings" and was instructed "to take 40C of Hypericum." Under "Heat Stroke," a similar set of options was listed. Now I am no medical professional - the Dr. in my name professes to my ability to read books, not bodies - but I know damn well that heatstroke, and even splinters, can be serious, carrying the risk ultimately of death in the case of the former, and infection in the case of the latter, and need cautious and pragmatic intervention, not a vial of magical mineral water.

What really scared me was that the glossy presentation of these "medicines" or "remedies" (and they were labelled as such) lent them a degree of unwarranted authenticity, that could only have been enhanced by the context in which this advice was found: beside a pharmacy, within an NHS building. All of the homeopathic options, like the advice pages for mainstream medicine, contained the usual disclaimers about seeking advice if symptoms persist. However, they equated doctors - those miracle men who worked in that building - with "Homepathic Professional" as the further advice to seek. There were no hyperlinks back to more mainstream medicines or advice elsewhere in the system.

Checking the MedicX Pharmacy website, I see they offer "a range of healthy living services." Especially in the context of first aid, healthy living is not something that homeopathy satisfies, for all that "natural remedy" tingles the same sensory synapses as are set off by organic food loveliness, or essence of camomile shampoo. So one has to wonder whether including a self-diagnosing, self-medicating computer screen, in a privately-run pharmacy which presumably (again, something I need to check) also sells said homeopathic remedies, is intended to advertise alternative medicine in order to turn a profit. Have the best interests of NHS patients here been compromised - albeit on a single computer screen in an otherwise exemplary health centre - because of a close, and possibly unregulated, tie-up with a private supplier?

In true Arnie style, and this time armed with a pen, and a camera phone, I will be back. Watch this space for some more detailed observations, and some (demands for) answers.

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Posted by Alistair at 9:08 pm


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4:14 am  
Anonymous Sunduvan said...

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2:59 pm  

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