Memorandum submitted by Sense About Science
Sense About Science is a UK registered charity
that works to equip people to make sense of science and evidence.
We work with over 4,000 scientists, from Nobel prize winners
to our Voice of Young Science network of postdoctoral researchers,
to help civic groups including community organisations, media
and commentators to weigh up claims about evidence.
2.1 Public perception of homeopathy
We monitor public discussions, together with
our own log of requests for help and concerns raised by scientists,
to identify frequently occurring misconceptions or misleading
information. In 2006 we reviewed discussion about homeopathy
and made two observations:
(a) That it was believed to contain an active
ingredient, and was often confused with herbal medicine (and,
related to this, that people were often unaware of the mystical
belief in water memory and in "like cures like" on which
it is based).
(b) That because it was supplied on the National
Health Service, it was assumed that it "must be effective"
and "there must be something in it".
2.2 We also noted regular reports of homeopathic
remedies being marketed for serious diseases, notably at that
time anti-malarial prophylaxis. We assessed this to be in part
a consequence of the assumptions (a) and (b) above.
2.3 We noted, through discussions held with
clinicians and researchers, that there was an atmosphere of resigned
frustration about the possibility of addressing the misconception
that homeopathic products contain active ingredients and the misconception
that there was reliable evidence of efficacy beyond the placebo
effect. In particular they found it hard to argue against something
that was supplied through the NHS and that appeared to be officially
endorsed. We also noted their frustration about the acclaimed
"holistic" approach of homeopathy despite its inability
to diagnose disease and the potentially dangerous consequences
of that. Furthermore, if the use of some unproven and unlikely
remedies is officially flattered and endorsed, then this affects
our ability to reason through debates about the suitability or
provision of any other remedy. In other words, one cannot demand
that people accept the evidence regarding the provision of drugs
for Alzheimer's yet overlook it regarding the provision of homeopathy.
2.4 Scientists' resignation to public misconceptions
is anathema to Sense About Science's mission of equipping the
public to make sense of science and evidence. It disenfranchises
the public by removing scientific reasoning to senior common rooms
and private clubs.
We supported and encouraged medical scientists
to make themselves plain in public discussions about homeopathy
in the following ways:
3.1 In May 2006, a group of medical specialists,
led by cancer surgeon Professor Mike Baum, writing to the medical
directors and directors of public health at NHS trusts to draw
attention to the provision of homeopathy and the lack of evidence
in support of its efficacy. In particular they raised concern
about: overt promotion of homeopathy for general use in the NHS,
including on the NHS Direct website; a government-funded patient
guide, prepared by the Foundation for Integrated Health; and the
Smallwood report commissioned by the Prince of Wales to make a
case for increasing NHS provision of homeopathy. They pointed
out that over a dozen systemic reviews had failed to provide convincing
evidence of effectiveness. This letter was followed one year later
with a letter led by Professor Gus Born, enclosing a copy of an
evidence review by a London NHS trust.
3.2 From this time, a group of clinical
researchers and journalists gathering information on the extent
of provision of homeopathy by NHS trusts, a summary of which has
been supplied to you separately.
3.3 In July 2006, working with experts in
malaria and tropical diseases to warn the public that homeopathic
medicines offer no protection against malaria or other serious
tropical diseases. This followed a short investigation by Sense
About Science, which showed that the first ten homeopathic clinics
and pharmacies selected from an internet search and consulted
were willing to break public health protocols by providing unproven
homeopathic pills to protect against malaria and other tropical
diseases such as typhoid, dengue fever and yellow fever. In widely
report comments, the malaria experts called on the Government
to ensure that the safety of the travelling public was not put
at risk by such prescriptions. Subsequent action was brought by
the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (the pharmacy
registration body at that time) against two of the pharmacies
investigated. This is ongoing.
3.4 In September 2006 producing a short
public leaflet, Sense About Homeopathy, describing homeopathy
in a scientific context and exploring why some people think it
3.5 In autumn 2006, challenging the Medicines
for Human Use (National Rules for Homeopathic Products) Regulations
2006. The new regulations permitted homeopathic products to make
medical claims but exempted them from providing scientific evidence
that they are effective. This was the first time in its history
that the regulation of medicines moved away from science and from
clear, meaningful information for the public. What is more, it
happened without parliamentary time or public debate. In October
2009, Sense About Science summarised for parliament hundreds of
responses protesting the introduction of the regulations, including
many from scientific and medical bodies. These were instrumental
in pressing for the debate that was held in the House of Lords
on 26 October 2006. The serious concerns of the scientific
and medical community were raised by Lord Taverne (Chairman of
Sense About Science), Lord Rees of Ludlow (President of the Royal
Society), Lord Turnberg, Lord Jenkin of Roding, Lord McColl of
Dulwich and Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve. A summary of our objection
at that time was:
The mission of the UK's licensing body, the Medicine
and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is to ensure
"that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably
safe". However, with the introduction of the new rules for
homeopathy, it now accepts homeopathic provings as evidence of
efficacy. A "proving" is the method homeopaths use to
determine the symptoms a substance causes (with a view to treating
diseases with similar symptoms). Provings are not carried out
on the finished product and are nothing to do with efficacy.
The regulations also mean that, for the first
time in more than 30 years, homeopathic products will be
able to make medical claims such as "For the relief of
Such claims, however worded, imply efficacy where none has been
The MHRA did not have to change the regulations
in this way. It was not required to do so by EC Directive 2001/83.
The MHRA set out four options to government, including doing nothing.
It chose to eliminate the old, stricter licences in order to facilitate
the "expansion of the homeopathic industry" through
The MHRA has designed the regulations to respond
to pressure from the homeopathic industry, which wants to expand
(see impact assessment right)."
3.6 In June 2009 working with Voice
of Young Science to urge the World Health Organisation to respond
to the promotion of homeopathy in developing countries for infant
diarrhoea, influenza, HIV, tuberculosis and TB. A note from Julia
Wilson of VoYS is appended.
A group of young researchers have received comments
from directors of WHO disease programmes stating that they do
not recommend homeopathy for the treatment of HIV, influenza,
TB, Malaria and Infant diarrhoea. These comments have been sent
to all health minsters in the world and provide a guideline for
governments and health care workers dealing with these issues.
Voice of Young Science (VoYS) is a network of
over 600 early career researchers set up by Sense About Science.
Sense About Science is a charity that equips people to make sense
of science and evidence. VoYS became aware of a conference
promoting the use of homeopathy in developing countries and discovered
that homeopaths are setting up clinics in these countries and
claiming to treat HIV, malaria, TB, influenza and infant diarrhoea.
Medics working with the most rural and impoverished people of
the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is
needed. The promotion of homeopathy for serious diseases puts
lives at risk. On 1 June 2009 25 early career researchers
and medics from the UK and Africa sent an open letter to the World
Health Organisation (WHO) calling on the body to condemn the promotion
of homeopathy for treating life threatening diseases. Their letter
available at http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/331/had
the support of leading international experts in malaria, HIV and
other serious diseases.
VoYS received supportive comments from the Stop
TB Department, the TB Strategy and Health Systems, the HIV/AIDS
Department, the Global Malaria Programme and the Department of
Child and Adolescent Health and Development stating that they
do not recommend homeopathy for serious diseases. These comments
are available at http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/392/.
The Director General's office confirmed that these "clearly
express the WHO position".
VoYS released the WHO response on 21 August
2009. It was sent to the health ministers of all countries to
highlight the WHO's position on homeopathy and to call on governments
to combat its promotion for serious diseases. The WHO response
was covered widely in UK and international media including African,
Indian and South American news. VoYS were contacted by a number
of researchers and medics in Africa and India, organisations such
as the Centre for Inquiry in Nigeria and several South African
journalists, concerned about the promotion of homeopathy in their
countries and pleased to have this support.
2 Homeopathy for Developing Countries, An International
Conference in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, 6-7 June 2009.
The programme can be found here: www.homeopathycommunity.com/upload/HomeopathySeminar.pdf Back