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NHS bosses bid to blacklist ‘bogus’ homeopathy amid fears of anti-vaccine misinformation

Remedies are ‘no replacement for tried and tested medical treatments delivered by properly-qualified professionals’, warn experts

Jon Sharman
Monday 28 October 2019 13:15 GMT
Tubes of homeopathic granules at Boiron laboratory in Brest, western France
Tubes of homeopathic granules at Boiron laboratory in Brest, western France (Getty)

Regulators must not validate the “fundamentally flawed” claims of homeopaths by accrediting their industry body, the head of the NHS in England has warned, amid fears of anti-vaccine propaganda.

Continuing to recognise the Society of Homeopaths would give the public a “false impression” homeopathy had some basis in science, Simon Stevens told bosses at the Professional Standards Authority (PSA).

The PSA, which is answerable to MPs, was set up to “protect the public and help ensure their health and wellbeing”, its website says. It assesses groups that register health practitioners who are not regulated by statute to help people make decisions. The PSA’s website lists the Society of Homeopaths as an accredited register of practitioners.

“We understand that it is not the responsibility of the PSA to review evidence on the efficacy of homeopathic remedies,” wrote Mr Stevens and Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director.

“However, it is difficult to see how the Society of Homeopaths can ‘inspire public confidence’ when the position of both the NHS and Nice, whose statutory duty it is to protect patients and the public by ensuring treatments are effective, have a firm and evidence-based position that homeopathy should not be recommended to the public.

“This is a vital issue at a time when there is a rise of misinformation about vaccines – some of which is apparently promoted by homeopaths – and which poses a significant danger to human health.”

The experts’ letter came as the National Audit Office warned parents were struggling to access GP appointments to vaccinate their children amid a decline in immunisation rates. NHS England missed the 95-per-cent uptake target for almost all routine pre-school jabs in 2018-19, following a general downward trend since 2012-13.

Just 86.4 per cent of children had had the full dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab by the age of five in 2018-19, which is below the World Health Organisation’s 95-per-cent target.

Homeopaths claim “like cures like”. Remedies are made by dissolving a substance believed to cause a certain illness in water, then diluting that solution many times past the point at which any molecules of the original material remain, before striking it against a hard surface. The weaker the solution, the more powerful the remedy, it is claimed.

The pseudoscientific process was created by Samuel Hahnemann, who died in 1843 – before the evidence emerged that allowed the germ theory of disease to revolutionise medicine.

After reviewing 225 studies of homeopathy in 2015, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council said there was “no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions”.

A review by the UK parliament similarly found homeopathic claims were not supported by evidence.

In a further statement on Monday, Mr Stevens said: “Anything that gives homeopathy a veneer of credibility risks chancers being able to con more people into parting with their hard-earned cash in return for bogus treatments which at best do nothing, and at worst can be potentially dangerous.

“Whether touted as a miracle cure or as protection from serious diseases – like so-called homeopathic vaccines – homeopathy is no replacement for rigorously tried and tested medical treatments delivered or prescribed by properly-qualified professionals, and by stopping people seeking expert help, misinformation and ineffective remedies pose a significant risk to people’s health.”

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Last year, the High Court dismissed a challenge by homeopaths to the NHS’s decision that ended funding for the unproven pills.

Now, pro-science group the Good Thinking Society is pursuing a judicial review of PSA’s recognition of the Society of Homeopaths.

The PSA and Society of Homeopaths declined to comment.

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