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The Society’s response to the report of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee Evidence Check: Homeopathy

The Society of Homeopaths, the UK’s largest regulator of homeopaths, roundly rejects the findings of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee Evidence Check: Homeopathy and has grave concerns about the processes that led to its report issued today.

Central to these concerns was a clarification issued at the outset of the oral evidence check by the Chair of the Committee itself, Phil Willis MP, who stated :

"…because there seems to be a little confusion about the nature of the work that we are doing, this is not an inquiry into whether homeopathy works or not. This is an inquiry which follows a series of evidence< checks across a number of government departments to see whether in fact there was any evidence to support the Government's policy towards homeopathy. I want to make that absolutely clear."

Nevertheless, what then followed was clearly an inquiry into whether homeopathy works or not, with those giving oral evidence including a journalist who was investigated by the Press Complaints Commission for his previous and unsubstantiated comments about homeopaths; a charity that has long publicly opposed homeopathy along with one of its key funders and a PCT that had already decommissioned homeopathy as one of its services.

Notable by their absence were any patient representatives who had used homeopathy or a PCT currently commissioning homeopathy.

The Society of Homeopaths, as the largest body representing professional homeopaths, applied to give oral evidence alongside its written evidence but was refused.

The Society also had serious concerns about the lines of questioning during the evidence gathering, many of which it considered to be outside the remit of the committee and which included a number that were directly related to The Society itself which it was not permitted to answer. Its subsequent letter to the committee plus a chase up remain unanswered.

In summarising that there is no evidence for homeopathy, the committee inexplicably overlooks the fact that, by the end of 2009, there were 74 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of homeopathy published in peer-reviewed journals which describe statistically significant results, from which firm conclusions can be drawn. Of these RCTs comparing homeopathy either with placebo or established conventional treatments, 63 were positive for homeopathy and 11 were negative.(1)

In its press release today, the Committee advises the government that “prescribing pure placebos is bad medicine’. Clearly, it is not aware that a 2008 meta-analysis involving 35 clinical trials and 5,000 patients suffering from depression found that commonly prescribed antidepressants have little more effect than 'dummy' placebo pills.(2)

And yet, prescriptions for anti-depressants are at record levels, with 31 million written in 2006 at a cost to the NHS of almost £300million.(3)

To put this in context, the NHS spends £11 billion on its annual drugs budget. Of that, the annual bill for homeopathic remedies is £152,000.(4)

Chief Executive, Paula Ross, said

“the cost of this evidence check must surely outweigh the paltry £152,000 Minister of State, Mike O’Brien reported is spent on homeopathic medicines each year by the NHS. The public clearly wants homeopathy and instead of funding this evidence check, we would have preferred to see the government put money into much needed research into how actually homeopathy works. The evidence shows that homeopathy is effective beyond placebo. Scientists have yet to understand how.”

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