It looks terrible on pharmacists and pharmacy practice: Homeopathy, on pharmacy shelves. In front of Members of Parliament, the Professional Standards Director for Boots, a huge British pharmacy chain, made the following admission last week:
There is certainly a consumer demand for these products. I have no evidence to suggest they are efficacious. It is about consumer choice for us and a large number of our customers believe they are efficacious.
Ugh. Profits before ethical patient care. Foreshadowing for Canadian pharmacies?
In the United Kingdom, the parliamentary science and technology met last week to evaluate the strength of evidence that supports the MHRA’s decision (their version of Health Canada) to license homeopathic products for sale, and allow claims to be attached to these products without evidence that they work. Pointed questions were directed at Boots and their decision to sell homeopathy in pharmacies.
The hearing are well worth reading through. And the media response has been scathing. “However they sugar it, you’re swallowing a delusion” says The Times:
Boots sees no reason to stop selling a line of products of no proven value when there are still consumers (gullible mugs) prepared to buy it.
Ben Goldacre both spoke at the hearings, and then wrote about it later, in an article entitled Homeopathy and the nocebo effect:
There were comedy highlights, as you might expect from any serious inquiry into an industry where sugar pills have healing powers conferred upon them by being shaken with one drop of the ingredient which has been diluted so extremely that it equates to one molecule of the substance in a sphere of water whose diameter is roughly the distance from the Earth to the sun.
The man from Boots said he had no evidence that homeopathy pills worked, but he sold them because people wanted to buy them. The man from the pill manufacturers’ association said negative trials about homeopathy were often small, with an average of 65 people, and “all statisticians” agreed you need 500 people for a proper trial. Not only is it untrue that you necessarily need this many people ; he then cited, in his favour, a positive homeopathy trial with just 25 patients in it.
The Telegraph also weighed in, with an article entitled: Boots: We sell homeopathic remedies because they sell, not because they work.
With homeopathy creeping into many Canadian pharmacies, as well as pharmacy continuing education programs, that headline may yet appear in Canada. Stay tuned.