Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Thursday, February 04, 2010


All good fun for the sceptics, who are having a go at the homepaths again. Entirely appropriate to mock these people, but I do worry that the general attack on woo has got caught up a bit with our national pastime of saying that "that money could have been spent on the NHS!". As far as I can see, a lot of people who feel uncomfortable in simply having a go at woo for being woo, have decided to hang their outrage on the peg of the fact that it costs money, and that this money is coming from our household god. It all seems a bit depressingly financially illiterate to me; another example of the truism that very few people actually know how much money a million dollars is.

A finger exercise to show you what I mean. The most often quoted cost of homeopathy to the NHS is £12m. That's a lot of money, but is it a lot of money to the NHS? Specifically, how many GPs could you buy for that[1]?

Average salary of a GP is £110,000[2], so £12m a year will buy you just under 110 doctors. Assuming a 50 week year and 45 hour workweek, that's 247,500 man/hours of GP time per year.

Divided by the c30,000 general practitioners in the UK[3], that's almost exactly 8 hours and 15 minutes of extra GP-time per doctor.

Assuming that an average GP consultation takes 15min[4], this means that if you cancelled £12m of woo and factors of production were completely fungible, you could put in 33 more appointments per doctor per year.

Or in other words, if the ability to prescribe homeopathic medicine saves the average doctor slightly less than 0.6 appointments per week, it's breaking even.

Does it beat this bogey? Who knows, I certainly don't. Does it make a big difference either way? Clearly not. The amounts of money spent here are just too small to move the dial. I would guess that on plausible assumptions, the NHS is spending more or less the right amount of money on woo.

[1]GPs are the most relevant substitute I think; although even one is too many, very few people take woo pills for cancer, and if they had a mind to, I think I'd rather they went to an NHS homeopathic practice because it would presumably send them on to a proper hospital quicker. I've done the same calculation using community nurses and it's not qualitatively different.

[2]Normally I would multiply by a factor of 1.5 to 2 to get the fully loaded cost, but the convention when discussing NHS costs is to quote the "salary" of a GP as the headline payment made, out of which the GP has to pay his own NI and overhead costs.

[3] I'm using out of date figures, which conveniently means I'm also not dealing with the devolution to Scotland and Wales.

[4] The last DoH study reckons about 11.5min for a consultation, but there is overhead here that has to be allocated.
17 comments this item posted by the management 2/04/2010 02:43:00 AM

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