He was appointed Minister of State for Health Services in June 2009.
O'Brien went to the Catholic St George's School then Blessed Edward Oldcorne School in Worcester. He studied for a BA in History and Politics at North Staffordshire Polytechnic, then gained a PGCE. From 1977-80, he was a trainee solicitor, then worked as a teacher from 1980-1. He lectured in Law at Colchester College of Further and Higher Education from 1981-7. From 1987-92, he was a solicitor. O'Brien was elected to parliament for North Warwickshire in 1992.
Homeopathy in the NHS
As Minister for Health Services, Mr O'Brien gave evidence before the Science and Technology Select Committee at a meeting in November 2009 which looked at the use of homeopathy on the NHS. A transcript of the full session can be read at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/45/09113001.htm
When asked whether there was evidence that homeopathy worked he answered (as transcribed in the official minutes):
- "…beyond the placebo effect, which is powerful, and the fact that some doctors and those who are well-qualified take the view that it does have an effect, but it is not been validated in the sense of a peer group-assessed empirical study (of which I am aware at least) to show the full validity. There is nonetheless some evidence that the placebo effect works. There is also a body of people who are reputable who take the view that it works and it is therefore the case that we have a body of people who believe in it—and I think that is probably the best word. However, if you are asking me as a minister do I have evidence that it works which is empirical and peer group-assessed, the answer is no, but that does not mean there is no justification for the Government policy, so I think we just need to be clear about that."
He later took the opportunity to state the Government's position:
- "The Government's position is that this is a controversial area of "medicine"—and let us assume we put the quotes wherever I make such reference in future—and it should be a matter for clinicians to make decisions in relation to this area, in conjunction with discussions with the primary care trust who have a responsibility for funding any medicine that is prescribed. That is our view, so in terms of the ethics, as you put it, of the situation, I think we would be reliant upon the professional organisations in order to regulate the judgments that clinicians make about what kind of medicine should be prescribed."
Responding to a question on the ethics of deciding to prescribe a placebo to a patient:
- "The question for me is who does that? The appropriate bodies would be the professional bodies rather than the government. I think the area where government needs to be involved is how are these decisions to be made, not the detail of individual decisions in particular cases. Are we in a position where we should say—and it was the point I made earlier to Evan—that you should be able to do this or are we making a decision, as I would be as a Minister in relation to this, that we should not, that we should stop funding homeopathy, and I do not believe at this stage that I would be in a position, despite all we have discussed, to say that homeopathy should not be funded because a view might be taken that it was similar to giving water and a sugar pill. That is not the situation I am in at the moment, so ethically it should be the professional bodies who make that discussion and the GP, not at this point a Minister."
In May 2008 in the abortion amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (now Act), Mike O'Brien voted for the abortion time limit to be lowered to 22 weeks against scientific and medical consensus which is currently 24 weeks. After four separate parliamentary votes on varying time limits, the majority of MPs voted to keep the abortion time limit at 24 weeks, in keeping with scientific and medical consensus, hence no abortion amendments were added to the bill.
- http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/45/09113005.htm Q184
- http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/45/09113005.htm Q192
- http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/45/09113006.htm Q206
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