Homeopaths given tacit approval in UK

In what has been described as “a slap in the face” to evidence-based medical practice, the UK Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) has formally accredited members of the UK Society of Homeopaths’ voluntary register under a new scheme set up by the Department of Health.

Practitioners on the Society of Homeopaths’ register will be able to display the Accredited Voluntary Register quality mark, a sign that they belong to a register which meets the PSA’s “robust standards”.

A statement by the PSA says that “Patients and the public can have confidence in the Society of Homeopaths’ voluntary register which has been vetted and approved by the Professional Standards Authority.”

The issue is that there is no mention in the PSA’s decision on the efficacy of the treatment. It can easily been seen that the inclusion of homeopaths on the register gives an obvious imprimatur to a practice which has no supporting evidence and which, in fact, contradicts basic laws of physics.

The PSA statement says that “Accreditation does not imply that the Authority has assessed the merits of individuals on the register. This remains the responsibility of the Society of Homeopaths.”

It adds that the PSA’s move “does not mean that the Authority has endorsed a particular approach or therapy; the public and employers will need to consider the information provided and decide if it is suitable for them.”

In an interview with The Times, Harry Cayton, chief executive of the authority, “acknowledged that many medical professionals believed that homeopathy was useless.

“It’s a matter of opinion,” he told the news outlet. “The people who use homeopathy have an opinion. What we’re saying is, if you choose homeopathy, you probably want to have a homeopath who is competent within the rules of homeopathy.”

The PSA is an independent body accountable to the UK Parliament. It oversees the UK General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and other regulators that supervise legally-defined medical professionals. A register run by the Society of Homeopaths will now be added to a voluntary scheme that the authority runs for professionals without legal protection, such as counsellors and psychotherapists.

“It’s not saying anything about homeopathy. It’s accrediting the register, not the therapy,” Cayton told The Times. “It’s really a consumer protection.”

Simon Singh, chairman of the Good Thinking Society and co-author of Trick or Treatment?, said that few consumers would make that distinction and might assume homeopathy had been given official backing.

“The PSA’s decision gives undeserved credibility to one of the highest forms of quackery known to mankind,” he told The Times. “It is a slap in the face to serious health professionals who come under the PSA’s umbrella and, more seriously, it will encourage patients to make potentially dangerous decisions by steering them towards clueless quacks.”

Miranda Parsons, chair of the Society of Homeopaths, is understandably pleased. Quoted in the same PSA statement – adding further concern to the apparent endorsement of homeopathy by the authority – she said: “We are thrilled that the Society’s register has been approved by the Professional Standards Authority. For over 35 years we have focused on high standards in the education and practice of homeopathy. The quality mark will give patients extra peace of mind by demonstrating that anyone who holds the mark is committed to high standards and professionalism. The Society is pleased to offer the quality mark to practitioners that meet the far reaching standards of our register, as approved by the Professional Standards Authority.”