MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

‘CLAMP DOWN ON THE BOGUS SCIENCE OF HOMEOPATHY’ is the title of a comment by Oliver Klamm in The Times today. Here is the background to his article.

In September 2020, the website of Homeopathy UK, www.homeopathy-uk.org, featured a page titled “Conditions Directory” with text that stated “Please find below a list of conditions where homeopathy can help …” followed by a list of medical conditions that included depression, diabetes, infertility, psoriasis and asthma. When consumers clicked-through the links to the conditions listed on that page, they were taken to separate pages for each that contained anecdotal descriptions from doctors detailing how they had applied homeopathic methods to the relevant conditions.

The UK Advertising Standards Authority received a complainant that challenged whether the ad discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, namely depression, diabetes, infertility, psoriasis and asthma.

The response of ‘Homeopathy UK’ said that, as a registered charity, they sought to share information about homeopathy for the benefit of others, rather than for commercial gain, and that they would always recommend that patients seeking homeopathic care did so under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner…

The ASA upheld the complaint and argued as follows:

The CAP Code required that marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment was conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. The ad referred to “depression”, “diabetes”, “infertility”, “psoriasis” and “asthma”, which we considered were conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. Any advice, diagnosis or treatment, therefore, must be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. We acknowledged that the articles had been written by GMC-registered doctors, who we considered would be suitably qualified to offer advice, diagnosis or treatment. However, we noted that the ad and the articles to which it linked referred to homeopathy in general, rather than treatment by a specific individual. We understood that there were no minimum professional qualifications required to practice homeopathy, which could result in consumers being advised, diagnosed, or treated for the conditions listed in the ad by a practitioner with no medical qualification. We therefore considered Homeopathy UK would not be able to demonstrate that all such treatment would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional.

Furthermore, we understood that, although elsewhere on the website there were links to specific clinics, not all treatment would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional across those clinics. Because Homeopathy UK had not supplied evidence that treatment would always be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional. Also, because reference to the conditions listed in the ad, and discussed in the related articles, could discourage consumers from seeking essential treatment under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional, we concluded that the ad had breached the Code.

On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Homeopathy UK to ensure their future marketing communications did not to refer to conditions for which advice should be sought from suitably qualified health professionals.

___________________________

Depression, diabetes, and asthma have few things in common. Just two characteristics stand out, in my view:

  • they are potentially fatal;
  • homeopathy is ineffective in changing their natural history.
  • It was therefore high time that the ASA stopped this criminally dangerous nonsense of deluded homeopaths.

The article by Oliver Klamm concludes with the following wise words about homeopathy:

“For public officials and opinion formers, the time for appeasing this dangerous quackery should be long past.”

 

10 Responses to Clamp down on the bogus science of homeopathy

  • This conditions directory must be quite new. I have challenged Homeopathy UK to deregister as a charity, as they fail to meet the public benefit requirement of The Charities Act 2011. If they refuse (!) I will complain to the Charity Commission.

    • Yes, there’s still a link to conditions directory. They are claiming that their sugar pills actually works – but only against another placebo. I’d like to see them compare homeopathy with real medicine and see how it fares.

      As far as charitable status, surely this is a website to advertise homeopathy for the purpose of business. This is a commercial use – not a charity.

      • They are claiming that their sugar pills actually work – but only against another placebo.

        IIRC, those were non-inferiority trials – meaning that they only established that their sugar crumbs were no worse than placebo, not that they ‘worked’ in any sense of the word.

        I regularly proposed trials by which homeopaths would take a cohort of customers with a mostly innocent condition such as eczema, and treat half of these with the ‘proper’ homeopathic preparation, and the other half with a homeopathic preparation that should have the opposite effect (i.e. exacerbate the symptoms). And this of course blinded, so that both homeopaths and their customers would not know who got which type of sugar crumbs.

        And then, after a few months, the condition of those customers is registered, after which the blinding is lifted. I’m pretty certain that there will be no significant differences between both groups.

        So far, no homeopath has ever agreed to this relatively simple test.

  • You can read the text (and see screenshots) of my original complaint to the ASA about some of the pages in the Conditions Directory here https://brodiesnotes.blogspot.com/2021/05/a-second-asa-adjudication-in-two-weeks.html. They’ve also published a statement from the CEO counter-complaining that these types of complaints to the ASA have an impact on patient choice etc etc https://homeopathy-uk.org/blog/a-message-from-our-chief-executive

    My original complaint mentioned their page on cancer but that’s not in the final ruling (I’d guess it was rapidly removed to avoid discussions heading into a Trading Standards / Cancer Act 1939 direction) and I didn’t mention depression in my original complaint but it came up later. Honestly hard to pick which ones to complain about as so much that’s there that’s concerning.

    The Association, in its statement, highlights that the material was written by doctors and that anyone reading it wouldn’t be put off getting appropriate medical treatment. Well, let’s hope. I wonder how homeopaths use the information there. It’s difficult not to read it as being presented as an alternative.

    Amusingly Homeopathy UK’s statement says “When we asked the ASA what evidence they had to show how the articles in question might discourage readers from seeking essential treatment they were unable to supply any” – it’s like the world of preventive product recalls doesn’t exist in homeopathy land. No evidence needed, it’s obvious that it’s a bad idea.

    In my chats with the ASA I mentioned that one way of investigating how homeopaths used the info was to look for the presence of pages from the conditions directory being linked on their own sites, but in the end that wasn’t really necessary.

    Les asks how old the directory is – not sure, but I came across links which were badged https://www.britishhomeopathic.org/ and not the new web domain https://homeopathy-uk.org/. (If I had done a search to find homeopaths linking to the conditions directory I’d have had to bear that in mind).

    Jo

    • Earliest version of their A-Z of conditions I could find on Wayback Machine dates to Nov 2009 on their old domain and it includes Asthma, Depression – as ‘Anxiety and Depression’ – Diabetes, Infertility, Psoriasis and several other WTF? entries, notably Lupus.

      It also includes ‘Male Midlife Crisis’, for which I assume you prescribe either a homeopathic sports car or a homeopathic 18 year old girlfriend.

      • I think that diabetes is the most egregious item here. This condition will (not just ‘can’) kill insulin-dependent patients within days if they decide to ‘treat’ it with homeopathy instead.
        And IIRC, Edzard has addressed this on several occasions already.

  • Homeopathy UK has close association with a registrant of the GMC.
    If only a patient would complain to the GMc that they had not been properly informed before consenting to homeopathic treatement he might be found to be unfit to practise (as a registered doctor).

    So, can any such patient(s) be found?

    Of course if patients were to be told by the nomeopath: “I believe the pills I am prescribing will help you, but the majority of scientific and medical opinion believes they will be nothing more (nor less) than placebos” – the patient might decline to continue with treatment.

    That applies in all brancehes of medicine.
    It’s called “having integrity.”

    Homeopaths have none – as their squealing over the ASA ruling indicates.
    They are emperors and empresses with no clothes, bizarre beliefs, anachronistic mindsets and a disgrace to the concept of ‘health care’.
    ‘Ad hominem’ is generally to be avoided, but when the behaviour of practitioners is so egregious it is hard not be engaged ad hominem.

  • The Homeopathy UK (H-UK) has a page where you can search for homeopaths who belong to the Faculty of Homeopathy (FoH), Society of Homeopaths (SoH) and Alliance of Registered Homeopaths (ARH). Despite the response of H-UK (see https://homeopathy-uk.org/blog/a-message-from-our-chief-executive ), the whole of the website could be considered advertising because of that directory search feature.

    Some homeopaths do believe that homeopathy is an alternative to (some) medical treatments. Whilst members of the FoH might be expected to understand the limits of homeopathic treatment and either treat with medicine or refer an appropriate practitioner, it is clear that some do not. In particular, there are FoH members who are not only anti-vaccination but have promoted homeoprophylaxis – Jayne Donegan for example. Perhaps they are minority but others express an “interest” in anthroposophic medicine and are implicated in the promotion of mistletoe therapy for cancer. In theory, all members of the FoH are subject to some sort of statutory oversight and some members have been sanctioned.

    Whilst the H-UK search returns FoH members first, it also returns members of the SoH and ARH who can be extremely problematic and certainly do not align with the supposed positions of the FoH and by extension H-UK. People that the late Peter Fisher was extremely critical of.

    “The idea that, after reading our website, someone might decline essential medical treatment is as troubling as it is unlikely. Not least because we know the people who visit the site to be discerning and intelligent people who are able to make informed choices about their own healthcare.”

    • “The idea that, after reading our website, someone might decline essential medical treatment is as troubling as it is unlikely. Not least because we know the people who visit the site to be discerning and intelligent people who are able to make informed choices about their own healthcare.”

      Translated: Nobody in their right mind would unquestioningly believe everything we say.

      Now where did we hear that excuse before … aha: Nobody In Their Right Mind Would Believe My Election Fraud Claims

  • here is what the BMJ reported about this:
    https://www.bmj.com/content/373/bmj.n1296

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