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MPs urge government to stop NHS funding, and MHRA licensing, of homeopathy

February 22nd, 2010 · 17 Comments

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What follows is mostly from the press release for the report of the Science and Technology Select Committee’s report on homeopathy.

Comments on their hearings can be found in Comedy gold in parliament and tragedy from Prince of Wales: editorial in British Medical Journal (Although published before Christmas, the comments on this editorial are still going strong in the BMJ).

scitec report

It seems that the attempts of the British Homeopathic Association to misrepresent the evidence (as documented by Martin Robbins in the Guardian) were not sufficient to fool the MPs.

Committee chairman. Phil; Willis, said

"We were seeking to determine whether the Government’s policies on homeopathy are evidence based on current evidence. They are not."

The NHS As well as recommending, as expected, that NHS funding of homeopathy should end. the report also recommends that no more money should be spent on clinical trials of homeoapthy. The evidence is in and it doesn’t work

The MHRA The Medicines and Health Regulatory Authority (the MHRA) came in for strong criticism when it allowed registering of homeopathic products, and allowed highly misleading labelling of them (see for example, The MHRA breaks its founding principle: it is an intellectual disgrace, and The MHRA loses the plot, and Learned Societies speak out against CAM, and the MHRA). During the committee’s hearings, the CEO of the MHRA, Kent Woods, seemed to say that the labelling of Arnica 30C had been tested to ensure that it did not mislead the public. However evidence subsequently submitted by the MHRA showed that this was not the case. This, rightly. elicited strong criticism in the report

"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.”

With scientific papers it is not acceptable to cut and paste the press release, but for a report of this sort, it summarises the main points succinctly.

The summary of the 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 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.”

Follow-up

A lot of people gave written about the SciTech report. The report of the Parliamentary Select Committee appeared. Evidence check homeopathy damned the policy of both the Department of Health and of the MHRA. The main job, apart from a few talk shows, was a visit to the BBC News Channel for an interview about it. Here it is.  The comment about  Chanel Number 5 seemed to go down well on Twitter.

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17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 zeno // Feb 22, 2010 at 11:57

    David

    I loved your comment on BBC News just now when the GP/homeopath mentioned consumer choice:

    “Patients might like Chanel No 5 on the NHS, but that doesn’t mean they should get it!”

    Genius!

  • 2 Evidence: Government Policy and Homeopathy « Stuff And Nonsense // Feb 22, 2010 at 14:29

    […] and David Colquhoun have blogged on aspects of the report. Gimpy notes that the report is damning of both the […]

  • 3 Mike Eslea // Feb 22, 2010 at 17:04

    Surprise surprise, the homeopaths are already whining. First out of the box is Robert Wilson, of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers, who according to the BBC:

    said he was “disappointed” by the findings.

    He said the MPs had ignored evidence that homeopathy was effective.

    “There is good evidence that homeopathy works, for example in animals and babies, neither of which experience placebo effects.”

  • 4 NHS money and parliament report on homeopathy - Netmums Coffeehouse // Feb 22, 2010 at 17:44

    […] – NHS money 'wasted' on homeopathy http://www.publications.parliament.u…tech/45/45.pdf and MPs urge government to stop NHS funding, and MHRA licensing, of homeopathy Reply « Previous Thread | Next Thread » addthis_pub = 'netmums'; var […]

  • 5 links for 2010-02-22 « Embololalia // Feb 22, 2010 at 18:06

    […] MPs urge government to stop NHS funding, and MHRA licensing, of homeopathy The Chairman of the Committee, Phil Willis MP, said: “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.” (tags: badscience quacks homeopathy parliament) […]

  • 6 The 21st Floor » Blog Archive » Is the tide high for Homeopathy? // Feb 22, 2010 at 19:25

    […] DC’s IMPROBABLE SCIENCE :MPs urge government to stop NHS funding, and MHRA licensing, of homeopathy […]

  • 7 Dangerous Conventional // Feb 22, 2010 at 21:12

    Excellent news David. Now you can spend your time helping the NHS getting rid of the 60% of conventional meds that have a peepoor evidence base, which unlike homeopathy actually cause harm.Now you really could make a name for yourself there.

  • 8 David Colquhoun // Feb 22, 2010 at 23:53

    @Dangerous
    Yes I’m working on that too. That’s what pharmacologists do.

  • 9 ralaven // Feb 23, 2010 at 03:40

    Can we stop this ridiculous canard that homeopathy doesn’t cause harm. People have died because they used homeopathy rather than conventional medicines and money spent on homeopathy could be spent on conventional medicine saving more lives. Plus homeopathy on the NHS legitimises stupid non-science. Of course homeopathy causes harm!

    The 60% figure, even if true – which it isn’t – is still vastly better than homeopathy’s 100% fail

  • 10 Antares42 // Feb 23, 2010 at 08:06

    @Robert Wilson, “There is good evidence that homeopathy works, for example in animals and babies, neither of which experience placebo effects.”

    Heard that a lot. Let me guess: The homeopathic “remedy” “worked” for babies because their parents said so. And it “worked” for animals when used in conjunction with actual medicine.

    I’m having a hard time believing that any council anywhere would find it ethical to carry out a homeopathy RCT on babies…

    /Antares42

  • 11 Michael Kingsford Gray // Feb 24, 2010 at 00:33

    @Antares42:
    Perhaps they were Homeopathic babies?
    Vis: Adults who have had their intellect diluted back to the level of an infant.
    Examples are not in short supply, especially in the Alt-Med religion.
    (Obtaining ‘informed’ consent may be a problem, though!)

  • 12 Alyth47 // Feb 24, 2010 at 14:39

    Humour works -see:
    http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/health/parliament-emitting-angry-purple-aura%2c-say-homeopaths-201002232496/

  • 13 David Colquhoun // Feb 24, 2010 at 17:47

    Alyth47

    Thanks for that beautiful link. Truly hilarious.

    Parliament emitting angry purple aura, say homeopaths

    MEMBERS of Parliament who criticised homeopathy have badly knotted chakras and are emitting an unhealthy purple aura, it was claimed last night.

    As a committee of MPs said the not-medicine was 14 times less efficient than writing a letter to Jesus, . . .

    As the famous physiologist/biophysicist AV Hill said “Laughter is the best detergent of nonsense” (though the nonsense that he was talking about in 1930s was Nazi nonsense)

  • 14 Homeopathy (sigh) again, in The Times // Feb 26, 2010 at 09:24

    […] sc_project=233721; sc_invisible=0; sc_partition=0; sc_security=""; ← MPs urge government to stop NHS funding, and MHRA licensing, of homeopathy […]

  • 15 A handy list of dimwitted members of parliament // Mar 12, 2010 at 08:55

    […] day motion1 (EDM 908) has been tabled in parliament which opposes the conclusions of the science and technology committee report on the evidence for homeopathy. After two weeks it has been signed by an amazing 49 MPs. That is […]

  • 16 Pro-reality activism soundbite – from the desk « Dr Aust’s Spleen // Apr 7, 2010 at 12:01

    […] some readers will know, following the damning (and admirably well reasoned) House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Report on Homeopathy, long-time Pro-Unreality campaigner David Tredinnick MP (noted, inter alia, for […]

  • 17 The demise of quackademia. Progress in the last 5 years leaves Michael Driscoll and Geoffrey Petts isolated. // Jan 1, 2012 at 16:29

    […] and Universities UK (UUK), the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), Skills for Health, the Medicines and Health Regulatory Authority ( MHRA) , the Health Professions Council (HPC), the Department of Health, the Prince of Wales […]

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