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

The UK ‘Advertising Standards Authority‘ (ASA) received a complaint about an advertisement that stated:

“Homeopathy is used throughout the world to keep healthy … People in the UK have been using it to successfully help with migraine, anxiety, chronic pain, woman’s [sic] health issues, depression, eczema, chronic fatigue, asthma, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other conditions”.

The ‘Good Thinking Society‘ had challenged whether:

  1. the ad discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, namely migraines, chronic pain, women’s health issues, depression, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis; and
  2. the claim “People in the UK have been using [homeopathy] to successfully help with anxiety, chronic pain … eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome … IBS” was misleading and could be substantiated.

The response of the ASA has just been published. Here are the key excerpts from the ASA’s assessment:

1. Upheld

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. Among other conditions, the ad referred to “migraines”, “chronic pain”, “woman’s [sic] health issues”, “depression”, “asthma”, and “rheumatoid arthritis”, which we considered were conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, and therefore advice, diagnosis or treatment must be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. We noted that the practice was run by a GMC-registered GP, who we considered was a suitably qualified health professional. However, the individual homeopaths were not registered and did not hold the same qualifications. Therefore, Homeopathy UK had not shown that all treatment and diagnoses conducted at the practice would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. Because Homeopathy UK had not supplied evidence that treatment would always be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional, and because reference to the conditions listed in the ad 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).

2. Upheld

We considered that consumers would understand the claim “People in the UK have been using [homeopathy] to successfully help with anxiety, chronic pain … eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome … IBS” to mean that homeopathy could be used to successfully treat those conditions … when we reviewed the evidence provided by Homeopathy UK, we considered that the studies provided did not meet the standard of evidence we required for the types of claims being made, both in terms of adequacy and relevance…

On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 12.1  (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

Action

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. We also told them to ensure they did not make claims for homeopathy unless they were supported with robust evidence.

_____________________________

Am I reading this correctly?

The ASA seems to be saying that homeopaths are not suitably qualified health professionals and, as no therapeutic claims are supported by robust evidence, that claims for homeopathy are improper.

8 Responses to Homeopaths are not suitably qualified health professionals and claims for homeopathy are improper

  • Well done, the ASA! This is an excellent result.

  • Note that this clinic is funded by two charities. The Charity Commission has been told about false claims for homeopathy since 2014 to my knowledge, and has done absolutely nothing about it.

    https://majikthyse.wordpress.com/2020/11/23/selective-regulation/

  • Worryingly, The ASA ruling concerns a medical practitioner registered by the GMC.
    The ASA ruling was about a web site run by ‘www.liverpoolhomeopathy.org’.
    Liverpool Homeopathy is under the aegis of ‘Homeopathy UK’.
    One of Liverpool Homeopathy’s main practitioners is Dr Hugh Neilsen.

    The site tells us: “Dr Nielsen became aware that conventional medicine did not have all the solutions for the problems he encountered in general practice which stimulated his interest in homeopathic medicine.
    He has been using homeopathy alongside conventional medicine for over 25 years both in his NHS general practice and in specialist homeopathic practice.”

    Dr Nielsen seems to be unaware that there is no such thing as ‘conventional medicine’ – only medicine which works to benefit the patient, and that which does not.
    Obviously, having a consultation with an empathic practitioner may provide benefit, but there is no plausible evidence that the homeopathic remedies they prescribe have any effect beyond the placebo.

    Homeopathy UK was founded in 1902 as the British Homeopathic Association.
    Its Royal Patron is Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester – who is also Grand Prior of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who run the St John Ambulance Brigade!

    The Prince (yes, another one!), tells us:
    “The charity has a long history of providing homeopathic support to those who need it…”.
    But as nobody does ‘need’ homeopathy – he’s been misled from the start.
    Or is himself seeking to mislead.

    The GMC should be informed of this ASA ruling about ‘Liverpool Homeopathy’ and Dr Hugh Nielsen BM BCh MRCP (UK) FFHom (GMC number 2501936) – as his/her own fitness to practice as a GP may be considered to be impaired.

    Apart from anything else, patients have to give informed consent.
    The advertising with which Dr Nielsen has been associated denies patients that opportunity – as the ASA determined.
    Does Dr Nielsen tell his patients that the vast consensus of medical opinion is that homeopathic remedies only act as placebos?

    The GMC will only consider complaints from individual patients or institutions such as the NHS or police.
    Does anyone know of a patient who has been taken in by this doctor and his site?
    And who would submit a complaint to the GMC?

  • In 2016, I filed similar complaints with an advertising standards committee against 8 Dutch homeopaths who offered fake childhood vaccines (a.k.a. ‘homeopathic prophylaxis’, or HP for short) as being “just as effective as real vaccines”, whilst claiming that real vaccines could cause all sorts of serious health problems, up to and including brain damage and death.

    After a lengthy procedure (~8 months and some 100 pages of evidence and testimony written by yours truly), the committee decided in my favour on all points and against all homeopaths, and ordered the homeopaths to stop offering their HP and their misinformation about vaccines.

    Unfortunately, this advertising standards committee (the ‘Stichting Reclame Code’) is a self-regulatory body that has no real power to impose sanctions. And while several of the homeopaths involved complied with the verdict, some others (such as this quack: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=nl&tl=en&u=https://www.martindemunck.nl/diensten/homeopathische-profylaxe/ ) didn’t, and merrily keep on endangering children’s lives by scaring their parents away from real vaccines and selling them utterly useless sugar crumbs in lieu.
    And even more infuriating: our official health inspectorate doesn’t do anything about this SCAM, at least not until children have been harmed and complaints are filed.

    And even though this latest news from the UK is encouraging, I find it rather saddening that this deception of sick and vulnerable people is only opposed through advertising standards bodies (and only case by case, at that), instead of being generally addressed by health officials and if necessary the legal system.
    Selling homeopathy for potentially deadly conditions such as asthma is akin to selling paper party hats to motorcyclists as an effective ‘alternative’ for real helmets. And whereas the latter is probably a crime, the former is still completely legal.

    • I made a complaint about the cease-therapy.com website that was also upheld by the SRC. See http://ukhomeopathyregulation.blogspot.com/2017/10/more-on-cease-therapy.html It’s my understanding that various members of the Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK) made successful complaints against individual Dutch homeopaths re CEASE therapy. It’s my understanding that action has also been taken against Dutch doctors promoting anti-vaccination and homeoprophylaxis.

      For experience, it often takes imminent media reporting to spur some regulators into action.

      • It’s my understanding that action has also been taken against Dutch doctors promoting anti-vaccination and homeoprophylaxis.

        Unfortunately, this is not the case. Yes, the anti-quackery organization VtdK has on several occasions caused a bit of a stir about treatments such as CEASE, homeoprophylaxis and homeopaths’ lies about vaccines, and yes, the aforementioned Stichting Reclame Code has condemned those things as well – sometimes resulting in a bit of publicity – but it has never resulted in any real legal or regulatory effort at all.
        Dozens of homeopaths in the Netherlands alone still offer CEASE therapy as a treatment for autism and homeopathic prophylaxis as an alternative for real vaccination, and even more homeopaths openly spread lies and misinformation about vaccines.
        And as long as these things are not addressed in an overall legal framework, and are at best dealt with on an individual basis by powerless organizations such as the SRC and the VtdK, this harmful quackery will not disappear any day soon – as homeopaths don’t just earn their money with it, but also derive a lot of self-esteem from their status as a ‘trusted healer’.

        In my personal experience, many homeopaths are not only seriously deluded but also hugely arrogant people, who are more often than not fully convinced that they know better how to diagnose and treat sick people than all real doctors and scientists taken together – in most cases without any medical training or background whatsoever.
        I had the (ahem) ‘pleasure’ of meeting the one I mentioned in my previous post in person, when I brought my case before the SRC. The man was absolutely furious and indignant that he had to defend himself (and homeopathy) against claims that were in his words ‘the product of utter ignorance’ and ‘blindness to even the simplest facts’, from ‘someone without any knowledge at all about homeopathy’ – in fact, at the end of his monologue of more than half an hour, he was crimson-faced and almost literally frothing at the mouth, and I felt that he could barely restrain himself from physically attacking me. Rarely have I seen someone so angry. (And I’m almost ashamed to admit that I found this hugely amusing, and really had trouble keeping a straight face when subsequently making my own case – which I did in a calm and succinct manner, which seemed to make him angrier still.)

        Alas, I never got to see his face when the final verdict was delivered, as that only happened a few weeks later. And perhaps it was all for the better that I wasn’t anywhere near this person at that moment …

      • @UK Homeopathy Regulation
        Addendum on the Dutch legal situation with regard to CEASE therapy and HP:
        https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/ah-tk-20202021-977.html

        Google-translated:
        https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=nl&tl=en&u=https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/ah-tk-20202021-977.html

        Basically, the current legal framework offers no opportunity to prohibit any alternative treatments, no matter if they have proven efficacy or not, and no matter if they are potentially harmful.

        Only when a particular treatment has caused injury and the injured party subsequently filed a complaint, can action be undertaken against the practitioner in question. Note that the ‘and’ is inclusive: when either no actual harm occurred or no complaint was filed, nothing is done. Also note that any disciplinary action only pertains to a practitioner. The treatment itself still cannot be prohibited.

        Only two things are prohibited to alternative practitioners: offering unregistered medicines with a specific indication, and performing so-called restricted procedures, which may only be carried out by certified healthcare workers (e.g. administering injections).
        The first prohibition is easily circumvented: simply claim that you can treat condition X, and at the same time offer a particular homeopathic ‘remedy’ Y with a text stating ‘We are not allowed to tell you here what Y is used for; please e-mail or call us for more information’.
        The second prohibition is not a big problem either, albeit for other reasons: most restricted procedures inherently come with a relatively high risk, especially when performed by medically untrained people (i.e. alternative practitioners), so homeopaths etc. are not really tempted to start messing around in that respect. After all, they advertise their SCAM as being 100% risk-free.

  • The ASA fairly recently updated their advice to marketers of homeopathic products and services. See https://www.asa.org.uk/advice-online/health-homeopathy.html which says –

    “Some homeopaths may be medically qualified and therefore regulated by the General Medical Council. Those who are medically qualified may make claims about treating conditions but would need to make clear that efficacy is due only to conventional treatments unless they hold robust clinical evidence to support claims of efficacy for individual homeopathic treatments.”

    Previously, the ASA had made noises about Professional Standard Authority (PSA) Accredited Register (AR) status possibly allowing certain types of claim. Interesting, the PSA seem to have become much firmer with ARs whose members routinely make misleading claims. The inability of the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) was undoubtedly part of the reason that the PSA suspended their accreditation.

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