Here’s the report, press release below. It looks like pretty sensible stuff to me, homeopaths can’t expect special treatment among all forms of medicine, if the evidence actively shows it doesn’t work, then that’s that. I have to say what really frightens me about all this is the MHRA: if regulation is so political that they can fall into holes over sugar pills, it tells a frightening story about their wider activities.
EDIT: Just whizzed through the report, like their one on abortion, it’s a really fantastic bit of pop science writing on evidence based medicine.
While you’re here, can I ask a favour? A lot of homeopaths and GPs who like to give out sugar pills are appearing on the news, claiming that RCTs are no way to test if a pill works, cherrypicking, etc. It would be great if people could note the name and the claim here or in an email (firstname.lastname@example.org as ever) so we can track how much harm these people are doing to the publics’ understanding of evidence, in the course of this “special case” pleading for their own pills.
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
Select Committee Announcement
Committee Office, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA
***EMBARGOED UNTIL 11 AM MONDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2010***
No. 21 (09-10): 22 February 2010
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
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.
Continues over page
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
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.”
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. Further details about this inquiry can be found at:
Media Enquiries: Becky Jones: 020 7219 5693
Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the
Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474).
Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard