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Homeopathic harms vol. 8: Opportunity costs

The excellent Nightingale Collaboration published some figures lately on how much the NHS in England spends on prescribing homeopathy. The figures are publicly available (and linked via the Nightingale Collaboration post), and represent every prescription for homeopathy dispensed by a community pharmacist – anything provided in a homeopathic hospital (or ordinary hospital, though I’d hope that doesn’t happen too often) wouldn’t show up.

You should go and take a look at that post because it’s interesting to see how prescribing has changed over the last 15 years or so.  It did make me wonder though, what is the opportunity cost of all this homeopathy? That is, what opportunities have we lost because we spent that money on homeopathic treatments? These opportunity costs represent one more indirect harm of the continued use of homeopathy.

I accessed a few resources to see what the score is.  Those resources are all publicly available, so you can (and should) double check my workings. I used:

In the 2013 calendar year, the NHS paid £137,000 for homeopathic remedies dispensed in community pharmacies.  By my calculations, that’s enough to pay for:

  • Wages for six newly qualified nurses, dieticians or radiographers or
  • Wages for five specialist nurses or
  • Twenty-six hip replacements (without complications) or
  • Twenty-four knee replacements (without complications) or
  • Delivery of ninety-one babies or
  • One hundred and ninety-six cataract operations or
  • Four hundred and fifty-nine MRI scans

(All numbers are rounded down, since it’s pretty hard to employ 0.4 of a person or replace three-quarters of a hip. Staff are assumed to be at the bottom of their pay band, which is probably a bit optimistic.)

Those numbers might not seem like much, but once again it comes down to cost/benefit analysis.  The best that we can hope that those homeopathic prescriptions achieved was some kind of comforting placebo effect for the patient.  Six nurses, even spread out around the country, could achieve an awful lot more than that.