UK Government committee recommends public funds pulled from homeopathy

Sugar pills are placebo
  • Report concludes UK National Health Service should cease funding homeopathy
  • Recommend no further clinical trials of homeopathy.
  • Evidence shows homeopathy doesn’t work.
  • Explanations for why homeopathy works are “scientifically implausible.”
  • Committee views homeopathy as placebo.

In a stunning move announced this evening Australian time, members of parliament in the UK have recommended that homeopathy be removed from the National Health Service (NHS).

The committee also concluded that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should not allow homeopathic product labels to make medical claims without evidence of efficacy. And since they found no evidence for efficacy, meaning they are not medicines, homeopathic products should no longer be licensed by the MHRA.

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.”

The move follows a recent parliamentary inquiry, known as an “evidence check”, where The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee took submissions from scientists and homeopaths to determine if homeopathy is effective, and hence worthy of government funding. From the report, the Committee wrote;

In our view, the systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclusively demonstrate that
homeopathic products perform no better than placebos.

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.

We do not doubt that homeopathy makes some patients feel better. However, patient satisfaction can occur through a placebo effect..When doctors prescribe placebos, they risk damaging the trust that exists between them and their patients.

During the committee’s inquiry, the British Medical Association said the use of homoeopathic medicine could not be justified on the current evidence. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said there was no possible reason why such treatments, marketed by an industry worth £40 million in the UK, could be effective scientifically.

This comes as no surprise to many in the scientific community who have known for many years that homeopathy does not, and cannot possibly work.

Also, in a surprise move, the professional standards director for the Boots high street pharmacy chain, Paul Bennett admitted to selling homeopathic remedies because they are popular, not because they work. In a statement, which has since been referred to as a huge foot-in-mouth, he said;

“There is certainly a consumer demand for these products,” but “I have no evidence to suggest they are efficacious”.

Boots sells a large range of their own brand homeopathic remedies including St John’s Wort, calendula and arnica.

The chemist chain was the target of the recent highly successful Ten23 campaign, a stunt “overdose” organised by the Merseyside Skeptics in the UK, and designed to demonstrate “Homeopathy, there’s nothing in it”.

At 10:23 am (London time) on January 30th, over 300 skeptics attempted to overdose on Boots remedies outside shopfronts of the highly respected pharmacy. The UK campaign received the backing of celebrities such as writer and physicist Simon Singh and comedian and author Dave Gorman and generated substantial publicity and news coverage.

The campaign also extended to Australia and NZ, where Vicki Hyde, chair-entity of the NZ Skeptics also garnered substantial news coverage. (Hear Vicki take down a NZ homeopath on Episode 69 of The Skeptic Zone). The relevance of “Ten23” is the Avogadro Constant, the dilution beyond which there is no likelihood of any of the original substance remaining in solution. This corresponds closely to the popular homeopathic dilution known as “12C” which represents a dilution of 10^24.

England currently had four NHS funded homeopathic hospitals, in Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow and London. A fifth hospital in Kent closed in 2009 when NHS funding was withdrawn.

Homeopathy is a 200 year old system of complementary medicine, invented by German physician Samuel Hahnemann. It is based on the principle that ‘like cures like’ – that an illness can be treated by substances that produce similar symptoms.

The modality boasts the English Royal Family as fans who have had their own personal homeopath for over a century. Prince Charles was recently accused of secretly lobbying ministers to support the continued listing of homeopathy by the NHS.

The NHS spends millions of pounds each year on the complementary medicine.

Robert Wilson, chairman of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers, told the committee that there is ‘strong evidence’ that homeopathy works. “If these products don’t work beyond the placebo effect, why do people keep buying them?’ When asked why he did not present the evidence; he said “He (Boots) hasn’t asked us specifically about the efficacy of homeopathic medicine.”

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.”

Read the full 273 page report as a pdf here.