Homeopathic remedies are 'nonsense and risk significant harm' say 29 European scientific bodies

NHS has said it will stop offering the alternative treatment - which has several high-profile celebrity fans

Rachel Roberts
Saturday 23 September 2017 23:33 BST
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Homeopathy has been attacked by a science-umbrella organisation
Homeopathy has been attacked by a science-umbrella organisation

A scientific organisation intended to influence EU policy has called for tougher regulations of alternative medicine, branding homeopathy “nonsense” and warning the “promotion and use of homeopathic products risks significant harms”.

The statement was made by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), an umbrella organisation representing 29 national academies in Europe, including the Royal Society in the UK.

Supporters of homeopathy and herbal medicine include Prince Charles, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, are among MPs to have signed motions in favour of it. Celebrities who are reportedly fans of the treatment include Usain Bolt, Paul McCartney, Jennifer Aniston Hilary Clinton, David Beckham and supermodel Cindy Crawford.

The council did not mince its words in its condemnation of homeopathy, which works on the principles that “like cures like” and that water can have memory.

In a 12-page statement, the group summarised extensive scientific research and concluded that homeopathy is scientifically implausible and produces nothing more than a placebo effect in patients.

“EASAC is publishing this statement to reinforce and reiterate this extensive and well-founded critique,” it wrote.

The EASAC said homeopathic remedies can be dangerous because they may delay patients from receiving conventional medical treatment.

The body recommended that EU states set up regulations to quash what it claims are misleading advertisements by homeopaths, remove homeopathic treatments from public health provision, and require that homeopathic product labels clearly identify ingredients and their amounts.

Homeopathy uses vastly diluted amounts of a substance that causes symptoms in the hope of curing a person.

The treatment has grown in popularity in the western world, with the homeopathy industry valued at around €1 billion in the EU in 2015 with an annual growth rate of around 6 per cent.

It is based on ideas developed in the 1790s by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnermann. NHS England says there is “no good quality evidence” that homeopathy is effective.

In spite of its belief there is no evidence it works, two NHS hospitals and a number of GP practices currently offer homeopathy. However, Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, called for this availability to end in June calling homeopathy “at best a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds”.

In the past year, the NHS spent just over £90,000 of its approximately £123bn budget on homeopathy. Some who would like to see the option of aromatherapy retained have pointed out this represents just 0.009 per cent of the budget.

The plans to cut the funding for homeopathy and other treatments including herbal remedies are at the centre of a formal public consultation aiming to save the health service at least £250m a year.

Homeopathic remedies are taken by people hoping to treat a wide variety of disorders including anxiety and asthma.

Prince Charles once said of the treatment: “It is rooted in ancient traditions that intuitively understood the need to maintain balance and harmony with our minds, bodies and the natural world.”

In 2010, when he kept a much lower profile as a Labour backbencher, Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter he believes “that homeo-meds work for some people and that it complements ‘conventional’ meds. They both come from organic matter.”

A House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy found that homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos, and that the principles on which homeopathy is based are “scientifically implausible”.

The EASAC made a wider point about alternative medicine in general, calling for “parity of assessment” with conventional medicine.

Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission announced it would start enforcing tough standards on homeopathic product labels, including making sure that the labels clearly state that there is no scientific evidence that the products work.

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