Chief scientist takes a stand

Beddington criticises homoeopathy in NHS and Home Secretary’s treatment of drugs adviser. Zoë Corbyn reports

May 20, 2009

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, John Beddington, has criticised the use of homoeopathy within the National Health Service.

He has also rounded on the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, over her treatment of an independent academic drugs adviser.

Professor Beddington’s complaints were revealed to MPs on the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee in an evidence session this week.

He told the committee that he had written to the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, indicating his concern that homoeopathic treatments were available on the NHS despite a lack of scientific evidence that they are effective.

The reply he received – that decisions to offer the treatments were for individual health authorities and practitioners – had led him to take the case up with the Department of Health’s Chief Scientist, David Harper. Discussions are on hold because of the swine flu outbreak, he said.

He also said that he had written to the Home Secretary to protest against her treatment of David Nutt, the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, who was telephoned by Ms Smith in February and made to apologise for an editorial that he had written in a peer-reviewed journal that equated the dangers of ecstasy to those of horse-riding, criticising the Government’s policy on drugs.

“I think it is important that people are allowed to publish in peer-reviewed journals without criticism,” Professor Beddington told MPs, expressing regret that he had not contacted Professor Nutt at the time to express his support.

Professor Beddington said he would consider publishing both sets of correspondence, and would also follow up on a recent decision by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to grant its first licence to a homoeopathic medicine.

The IUSS committee had previously criticised Professor Beddington for appearing to see his role as “defending government policy” despite scientific evidence.

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