British MPs Tell Gov’t: Stop Funding Homeopathy

In a clear statement on the absurdity of public funding and regulation of homeopathy, British MPs instructed government to stop paying for homeopathy, shut down homeopathic hospitals, cease all homeopathy clinical trials, and to crack down on homeopathic efficacy claims.

Committee chairman Phil Willis MP said; “We were seeking to determine whether the Government’s policies on homeopathy are evidence based on current evidence. They are not.”

Homeopathy doesn’t work. It can’t work. If it did, physics, biochemistry and pharmacology as pharmacists know it would be false. Yet this elaborate placebo system persists, supported in part by the pharmacy profession, which seems comfortable selling products with no active ingredients and no evidence of efficacy.

I have blogged previously about the British inquiry into homeopathy, the public relations disaster for Boots the Chemist (selling their own store brand of homeopathy), and the effectiveness of the “10-23″ protesters, who staged a mass homeopathic overdose, where, not surprisingly, nothing untoward happened to anyone.

The final report from the British inquiry has been released. It scrutinized government policies on homeopathy, and gives direction to the National Health Service.  But the recommendations apply to any country (like Canada) that legitimizes homeopathy.

Here is the Press Release which summarizes the 273 page report :

In a report published today, the Science and Technology Committee concludes that the NHS should cease funding homeopathy. It also concludes that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should not allow homeopathic product labels to make medical claims without evidence of efficacy. As they are not medicines, homeopathic products should no longer be licensed by the MHRA.

The Committee carried out an evidence check to test if the Government’s policies on homeopathy were based on sound evidence. The Committee found a mismatch between the evidence and policy. While the Government acknowledges there is no evidence that homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect (where a patient gets better because of their belief in the treatment), it does not intend to change or review its policies on NHS funding of homeopathy.

The Committee concurred with the Government that the evidence base shows that homeopathy is not efficacious (that is, it does not work beyond the placebo effect) and that explanations for why homeopathy would work are scientifically implausible.

The Committee concluded—given that the existing scientific literature showed no good evidence of efficacy—that further clinical trials of homeopathy could not be justified.

In the Committee’s view, homeopathy is a placebo treatment and the Government should have a policy on prescribing placebos. The Government is reluctant to address the appropriateness and ethics of prescribing placebos to patients, which usually relies on some degree of patient deception. Prescribing of placebos is not consistent with informed patient choice—which the Government claims is very important—as it means patients do not have all the information needed to make choice meaningful.

Beyond ethical issues and the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship, prescribing pure placebos is bad medicine. Their effect is unreliable and unpredictable and cannot form the sole basis of any treatment on the NHS.

The report also examines the MHRA licensing regime for homeopathic products. The Committee is particularly concerned over the introduction of the National Rules Scheme (NRS) in 2006, as it allows medical indications on the basis of study reports, literature and homeopathic provings and not on the basis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) – the normal requirement for medicines that make medical claims.

The MHRA’s user-testing of the label for Arnica Montana 30C—the only product currently licensed under the NRS—was poorly designed, with some parts of the test little more than a superficial comprehension test of the label and other parts actively misleading participants to believe that the product contains an active ingredient.

The product labelling for homeopathic products under all current licensing schemes fails to inform the public that homeopathic products are sugar pills containing no active ingredients. The licensing regimes and deficient labelling lend a spurious medical legitimacy to homeopathic products.

The last sentence can equally be applied to Health Canada and its Natural Health Products Directorate, which also endeavors to assign unique numbers to indistinguishable bottles of sugar pills.

The major recommendation related to the sale of homeopathy is as follows, and relates to the implied endorsement (through licensure) of homeopathic products by the MHRA, which is the UK equivalent to Health Canada or the FDA:

We consider that the way to deal with the sale of homeopathic products is to remove any medical claim and any implied endorsement of efficacy by the MHRA—other than where its evidential standards used to assess conventional medicines have been met—and for the labelling to make it explicit that there is no scientific evidence that homeopathic products work beyond the placebo effect.

Anthony Cox, an English pharmacist who blogs at the excellent Black Triangle blog has the following analysis:

The committee stops short of suggesting homeopathy should not be sold by pharmacies, instead preferring that they are sold honestly. The central problem with homeopathy is the legitimacy given to it by NHS funding and government regulation. Tackling that will improve the position pharmacists are put in.

However, there is still plenty of work to be done in pharmacy. How can it be that there is a registered pharmacy regulated by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society supplying Leptospira, leprosy, and hepatitis remedies openly over the internet? It’s hard to reconcile that pharmacy’s continued registration with the Society’s position on homeopathy.

It’s time to begin the discussion in Canada. Why does Health Canada states that their approval of a homeopathic product means that it is safe, effective, and of high quality, when it’s clear that homeopathy is a placebo, and has no active ingredients? Why does Health Canada allow anecdotal evidence as evidence of efficacy statements for these products? Why are Canadian pharmacies told that the sale of homeopathy is acceptable, when  Health Canada has given its stamp of approval? And why are Ontario, British Columbia, and other provinces endorsing and expanding the roles for alternative health practitioners, that are trained and “qualified” in homeopathic pseudoscience?

More coverage here:

Black Triangle: Homeopathy and Pharmacy

Ben Goldacre: Parliamentary Sci Tech Committee on Homeopathy

Gimpy’s Blog: The Evidence Check on Homeopathy – a merciless punch to its vitalist organs (despite attempts to water down report)

Podblack Cat: Recommendation – Homeopathy Gone From The NHS!

The Quackometer: The Bleakest Day for Homeopathy

Australian Skeptics: UK Government committee recommends public funds pulled from homeopathy

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17 thoughts on “British MPs Tell Gov’t: Stop Funding Homeopathy

  1. North American naturopathy my be a good place to start, if you can scrape off their teflon coating.

    I’ll guess firmly that AANP and CAND will continue to label homeopathy a “clinical science” on their licensure exam!

    Given that naturopathy’s essential science-ejected premises — science-unsupported for several decades, or even a few centuries — are still being labeled falsely by them as science.

    Here’s a recommended web search experiment:

    “naturopathic homeopathy “subtle yet powerful electromagnetic””

    -r.c.

  2. Why don’t you leave it up to the people to decide? I know it works. It’s all based on raising the frequency levels of specific organs, cells, tissues, whatever the remedy is for. I am sick and tired of the government and Big Pharma trying to make a buck while limiting my choices. I have a brain and know how to use it.

    • Your words are gibberish. Raising frequency levels is a completely meaningless phrase invented by a con man to sucker the marks into spending money.

      People who do use their brains can see that there is no scientific basis for naturopathy. Having one and knowing how to use it, without actually using it, is a sad waste of a brain.

      • Naturopathy is not just about homeopathy and actually most naturopaths hardly use homeopathic remedies. Naturopaths use many different practices to help with health issues such as nutrition which is their first choice, massage, herbal medicine and occasionally homeopathy. Nutrition is their main focus, you seem a little confused about natural therapies. If you do not like the way people use their brain then you should maybe consider asking medical schools to stop taking the hippocratic oath. Hippocrates was the father of herbal medicine and nutrition in case you didn’t know, he found out from middle eastern and african counties that plants were medicinal, otherwise there would be no such thing as pharmaceutical medicine today. All pharmaceuticals are, are isolated constituents from plants taken by materia medica from Western Herbal Medicine and other chemicals are then added to give an immediate effect ignoring the possible long term side effects.

  3. Hey Diane, please use that brain to enlighten all us deluded Big Pharma shlubs and explain *how* “It’s all based on raising the frequency levels of specific organs, cells, tissues.”

  4. I am a homeopath myself and I think everyone should have the freedom to choose how he of she wanted to be helped with his of her problems. I know homeopathy works. The thing is natural medicine still have a far bigger market share than pharmaceutical industry and they don’t like that. It’s strange because the EU did recognize Homeopathy in 2009. I do think there should be only alternative therapists that have a license so that the quality of homeopathy will be high. And people will get the best help they can get.
    Natuurtherapeut, Daan van der Meulen, Holland.

    • I agree, if people want to spend their money on sugar pills, that’s their choice. I do have a problem lying to patients, however, and that’s why I tell my patients that homeopathy contains no active ingredients, and has not been demonstrated to have any effectiveness beyond that of a placebo. With respect to licensure government regulation of homeopathy is akin to licensing astrologers and psychics.

  5. My specialty is business ethics — the ethical principles that apply to commerce.

    It’s crucial that people selling health-related product be up-front with consumers. If your product doesn’t meet the basic standards of science, you should say so.

    Further, if you’re going to sell customers something, implying “this works!”, you need to be able to advise customers how to avoid buying things that *don’t* work. So, makers of homeopathic treatments owe it consumers to be able to advise them on how to avoid sham treatments. As far as I’ve seen, makers of homeopathic treatments are either unwilling, or unable, to help consumers that way.

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  9. Like so many self important “mouths”, committee chairman Phil Willis MP knows nothing about homoeopathy at all. He has not studied it or tried it. He is just making an ass of himself before the many people who do know about homoeopathy and have positively benefited from it. His concern is not for public health but for government coffers. I would also like to know how big an interest he personally has in Big Pharma shares. That in itself would motivate him to use his position to sound off so stridently about something he knows nothing about.

  10. And what is wrong with placebos if they are made of sugar and have a positive effect? All the negative outpourings above concerning the ineffectiveness of homoeopathic treatment is again based on first hand ignorance, hearsay and unsubtle vested interest.
    Please make sure you KNOW what you are talking about before expressing a mere opinion.

  11. I would like to quote an eminent scientist in support of my comments above. “Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance.” Albert Einstein

  12. From Dr Mercola:
    It has long been believed that the placebo effect works only because people believe they are taking a real drug. But a new study casts doubt on this assumption. Placebos may work even when they are administered without deception.
    Even though placebos contain no active ingredients, patients often respond to them. In fact, many American physicians — perhaps as many as 50 percent — secretly give placebos to their patients.
    Since this practice is ethically questionable, a group of researchers decided to explore whether or not the power of placebos can be used without the secrecy.
    Science Daily reports:
    “… 80 patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were divided into two groups: one group, the controls, received no treatment, while the other group received a regimen of placebos — honestly described as ‘like sugar pills’ .
    .. By the end of the trial, nearly twice as many patients treated with the placebo reported adequate symptom relief … Also, on other outcome measures, patients taking the placebo doubled their rates of improvement to a degree roughly equivalent to the effects of the most powerful IBS medications.”

  13. I think that all real drugs when properly administered to patients, elicit to some degree the placebo effect. If the remedy being prescribed is administered by a perceived “professional” the expectation by the patient that their symptoms will be resolved is more likely to show positive results, due to their faith in the Doctors authoritative and professional advice.
    In other words, while the remedy being prescribed may or may not contain a potent level of some known chemical compound, the patient’s improvements may present more favorably than without the good Doctors bedside manners.
    How this works is not well understood but expectations seem to play a role. 12% of the population can be hypnotized; they are better listeners and can be profoundly manipulated through suggestion if there is an agreement of trust developed between the Subject and the Operator.
    The hypnotist having established a rapport with the subject can now with the snap of a finger, suggest almost any health related concept and expect to see a marked improvement in the subject’s condition. Like the Placebo the effects manifested through hypnosis are not well understood but are produced through similar cognitive pathways.
    The deception practiced by the Hypnotist to offer benefit to the subject, cannot be interpreted as a malign form of misdirection, since an agreement to form this induction between the subject and Hypnotist has been established.
    The Homeopath relies on the same process as the Hypnotist. The only difference is that the Homeopath knows not what he or she is doing. They are actually trained to believe that there is some magical essence inside their H20 tinctures and or little sugar pills.
    In this sense, the Homeopath is actually a participant in a “double blind” experiment. Not even the Homeopath like those that administer new drugs during these trials, knows what drugs are real or fake. The point is the Homeopath believes in their remedies.
    Therefore it would be inappropriate to accuse the Homeopath of deceptive practices since they themselves are unaware of the clever deception.
    Does Homeopathy really work? Yes and no. As stated earlier: 12% of the population are suggestible enough to be hypnotized and therefore are more likely to have favorable results from this practice. Can Homeopathy cure or prevent diseases? I for one would not want to be responsible for that claim. However there’s nothing wrong with convincing people that they will imagine themselves feeling better than before. Better to die happy then dying miserable and un-happy.
    In case you haven’t figured it out yet. Imagine what would happen if some prankster dude decided to spike someone’s coffee with 50 pills of Arsenicum album a commonly prescribed Homeopathic remedy. I would wager the joke would be on the Prankster dude as the only discernible change to the recipient of this doctored brew would be a slightly elevated sugar count in his blood. Now try spiking his coffee with 50 hits of LSD – don’t do this – or your friend may end up in the Looney-bin for 24 hours or more.
    The Point – there are drugs that will cause profound effects without the suggestion of your Doctor or anyone else, and there are “remedies” that will have no effect whatsoever without the suggestion of your Doctor or the convincing label of the homeopathic remedy.
    A parent administering a homeopathic remedy in order to vaccinate their child against Polio, is grossly reprehensible and by so doing is overstepping the boundaries of Homeopathic “medicine”. Administering a treatment practiced in the dark ages, and legitimizing this kind of malpractice to be administered anywhere in the world when the medical profession has a proven track record of a Polio vaccination, is proof that the majority of people that adopt this style of health care are either disillusioned by the medical profession or grossly lack any formal or scientific education.

    Ontario going back to the dark ages, or is there some other agenda:
    Marketplace, co-host Erica Johnson spoke with Dr. Joshua Tepper, Ontario assistant deputy health minister about the decision:

    Erica Johnson: Why regulate something that has not been proven? In the eyes of the public, doesn’t that give it legitimacy?

    Dr. Joshua Tepper: People are choosing health care, people are voting with their feet, if you will.

    EJ: But how are they going to be informed that homeopathy has no science behind it? That the remedies largely have no active ingredient? Is the Ontario government going to take out commercials that say, “Hey we’ve regulated homeopathy but there’s no evidence that it works?”

    JT: “What’s important for government is to make sure that when people are making choices, that is done in a structure that’s the safest possible… that they’re going to be treated professionally, that the environment you’re in is safe, that the educational and knowledge competencies is meeting a certain standard.”

    Obviously he wasn’t prepared to answer the question of legitimacy, but the government needs to adequately address the issue soon.

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