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Science and Technology Committee

Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy


Report published

The Committee published 'Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy', HC 45, its Fourth Report of Session 2009-10, on Monday 22 February 2010. The report included the oral and written evidence. 

MPS URGE GOVERNMENT TO WITHDRAW NHS FUNDING AND MHRA LICENSING OF HOMEOPATHY

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 Chairman of the Committee, Phil Willis MP, said:

"This was a challenging inquiry which provoked strong reactions. We were seeking to determine whether the Government’s policies on homeopathy are evidence based on current evidence. They are not.

"It sets an unfortunate precedent for the Department of Health to consider that the existence of a community which believes that homeopathy works is 'evidence' enough to continue spending public money on it. This also sends out a confused message, and has potentially harmful consequences. We await the Government's response to our report with interest.”


Terms of Reference

In preparation for the establishment of the Science and Technology Committee on 1 October, the former IUSS Committee commissioned work to assess the Government's use of evidence in policy-making. The Committee wrote to the Government on a number of topics and asked two questions: (1) What is the policy? (2) On what evidence is the policy based? The Government has now replied and having considered the responses the Committee has selected Homeopathy for its second Evidence Check.

The Committee invited short submissions on the following issues:

- Government policy on licensing of homeopathic products 
- Government policy on the funding of homeopathy through the NHS
- the evidence base on homeopathic products and services.

 


Oral evidence

 

Previous sessions:

Monday 30 November 2009
Mr Mike O'Brien QC MP, Minister for Health Services, Department of Health;
Professor David Harper CBE, Director General, Health Improvement and Protection, and Chief Scientist, Department of Health; 
Professor Kent Woods, Chief Executive, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency

Wednesday 25 November 2009 
Professor Jayne Lawrence, Chief Scientific Adviser, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain;
Robert Wilson, Chairman, British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers;
Paul Bennett, Professional Standards Director, Boots;
Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science;
Dr Ben Goldacre, Journalist.
Dr Peter Fisher, Director of Research, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital;
Professor Edzard Ernst, Director, Complementary Medicine Group, Peninsula Medical School;
Dr James Thallon, Medical Director, NHS West Kent;
Dr Robert Mathie, Research Development Adviser, British Homeopathic Association.

 


Written evidence

 

Homeopathy written evidence 

 


Press notices

 

20/10/09 Inquiry announced  
11/02/10 Report to be published 
22/02/10 Report published 

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by the way, has anyone noticed that the media did do a frenzy the day after the report came out (that was a depressing day), but has gone very quiet since then? even the bbc only did one very forlorn article which has already slid down the ranks on their health page.
This is a very busy topic, great!! Some good points being made.
I was also at Westminster yesterday. What a great job William and Uschi did in pulling it all together. Shame there were no press there, (and not much evidence of our registers, I only spotted Han (HMA).

David Tredinnick was great, There are still only 13 signatures on the EDM. (4 yesterday) Hopefully as MPs in-boxes fill with requests to sign that number will shoot up!

We do need a strong voice in the UK, someone who can handle the media really well, and who represents all homeopaths. Someone who will represent homeopathy, rather than one organisation or one vested interest. We must not blur the issue by allowing the emphasis to move from the statements made in the report to other agendas, (eg regulation, registration, education). That is why whoever takes the public platform needs a really clear almost politicians mind set, and won't be distracted from the main point, because the opposition will try to distract with any red herring they can come up with. They don't want us to prove them wrong, and so as soon as we look as if we are winning a point, they will move the goalposts. Any suggestions out there? And yes, it has gone very quiet in the media.
Hi Anne, I think this is a global issue and that would be great if we could all sign the petition and come together with a letter that would represent us as one voice, one heart, one family as cosmic citizens....that way the support could be there from everywhere.
If we do it only as individual countries or nations as you say they will keep moving the goal posts but with a global family on top of their schemes they will not be able to carry on with their insanity...
I agree wholeheartedly! Also agree with presenting our side from the perspective of homeopathy as a whole rather than letting the focus shift to regulation, etc., until addressing those issues suits the needs of homeopaths and patients.

I'm not a homeopath, but I will gladly do anything I can.
Thank you Christine for voicing your thoughts and opinions. That's all we ask of everyone.
If there is a petition, I would be glad to write to all the homeopaths in the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area (and other states if time permits). I could let them know about HWC and the situation in the UK (some may not be aware of either) and direct them to where they can sign a petition.
I think the best petition is "Homeopathy Worked For Me" shown above in the list of links. That organization has already handed in the signatures of 27,000, I believe. It can't hurt to keep adding names.

Maybe we can investigate if there is any other organization that has any authority. Although, gaining that many signatures would take time. Best to build on what has already been started and use these signatures from around the world to send to different governing bodies.
Hi Debby,
Is this on facebook or twitter or Orkut, agreed best to build on what has already been started but it does need to be planetary wide and as I said before if it is very simple in terms of the signing and a direct and urgent message with an appropriate photo this is even better. What I have found with many of the petitions lately is that they are restricted to the U.S. or Canada and so it cannot be sent unless we have an address in that country' . our address as Cosmic Citizens is Planet Earth.
The no shock Haiti facebook was a huge success in terms of getting the advantage takers of the earthquake crisis exposed.
Let's do what we can to add to something already in positive motion.

Attachments:
Thanks!

I wondered if HWC was going to form its own petition but will write to the homeopaths and alert them to this one. Hopefully, it will also bring more members to HWC.
Dear Barbara ~ This petition has TWO PLACES TO SIGN.
One is for those living in England. The other is for INTERNATIONAL.
There should be no problem Signing.
  • Homeopathy Worked For Me | <~ SIGN UP HERE
  • It might be helpful to contact founders of this organization if other groups would like the entire list of signers to be sent to different institutions in need of lobbying.
I found it Debby, about an hour ago, and thanks. I will be there signing again for my sons and have got it out on facebook with friends..and family.
Blessings,
Yup. They don't want to publish all the pro homeopathy stuff they are getting now...

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