Views & Reviews Personal View

Chief medical officers: the need for public health at the heart of government

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f688 (Published 05 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f688

Re: Chief medical officers: the need for public health at the heart of government

As Scally says [1], the chief medical officer (CMO) of England is also the chief scientific adviser (CSA) to the Department of Health. Every government department has a CSA. [2] In addition, there is an overarching government chief scientific adviser (GCSA), Professor Sir John Beddington. [3] But I fear Scally may be too optimistic about the real influence of the CSAs on government policy and decision-making: even the GCSA struggles to influence departmental policy, as his experience with homeopathy shows.

In 2012, the GCSA, giving evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, described continued funding of homeopathy by the Department of Health and NHS as a failure; it was “crazy”. [4] Beddington argued there was no scientific basis for this funding, adding that he had expressed this opinion publicly on numerous occasions. Further, in January this year, the CMO/departmental CSA, giving evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, said homeopathy was “rubbish”, explaining that any apparent impact was due to the placebo effect. [5] She also stated: “I am perpetually surprised that homeopathy is available on the NHS.” In response, the Department of Health told a newspaper it was up to local NHS organisations to decide whether to fund homeopathic treatments. [6] Before being appointed Secretary of State for Health in September 2012, Jeremy Hunt openly supported the provision of homeopathy on the NHS. [7]

1. Scally G. Chief medical officers: the need for public health at the heart of government. BMJ 2013;346:f688. (5 February.)
2. Government Office for Science. Chief scientific advisers across government. 2013. www.bis.gov.uk/go-science/science-in-government/chief-scientific-advisers.
3. Government Office for Science. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser. 2013. www.bis.gov.uk/go-science/chief-scientific-adviser.
4. House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. 4th Report of Session 2010-12 – The role and functions of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers. 2012. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201012/ldselect/ldsctech/264/264.pdf.
5. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health - uncorrected evidence - 23 January 2013. 2013. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmsctech/uc921-i/uc9....
6. Silverman R. Homeopathy is 'rubbish', says chief medical officer. Daily Telegraph 2013 Jan 24. www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9822744/Homeopathy-is-rubbish-says....
7. Chivers T. Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, thinks homeopathy works. Daily Telegraph 2012 Sep 4. blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100179258/jeremy-hunt-health-secretary-thinks-homeopathy-works.

Competing interests: No competing interests
10 February 2013
Alex C W May
independent researcher
N/A
Manchester M13 9DP, UK
Click to like:
28
Vote down!