Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy - Science and Technology Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Evidence Check inquiries

1. Since the Science and Technology Committee was reformed in October 2009, we have been running a novel programme of work that we have called "Evidence Check". The purpose of Evidence Check is to examine how the Government uses evidence to formulate and review its policies. We have focussed on narrow policy areas and asked the Government to answer two questions: (1) what is the policy? and (2) on what evidence is the policy based? In December 2009 we published our first Evidence Check on Early Literacy Interventions.[1]

2. This is the second Evidence Check report. It examines the Government's policies on the provision of homeopathy through the National Health Service (NHS) and the licensing of homeopathic products by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). We selected this topic following the Government's responses in September 2009 to questions we asked about the evidence base underpinning several different policies. The Government's response on homeopathy indicated that scientific evidence was not used to formulate the licensing regime operated by the MHRA.[2] We were surprised by this response and decided to broaden the inquiry to include consideration of the evidence base underpinning the Government's policy regarding the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.

The inquiry

3. This inquiry had a dual focus on the NHS and the MHRA. In October 2009 we issued a call for written evidence on:

4. This inquiry was an examination of the evidence behind government policies on homeopathy, not an inquiry into homeopathy. We do not challenge the intentions of those homeopaths who strive to cure patients, nor do we question that many people feel they have benefited from it. Our task was to determine whether scientific evidence supports government policies that allow the funding and provision of homeopathy through the NHS and the licensing of homeopathic products by the MHRA.

5. We received around 60 written submissions. Because we had received a response from the Government on MHRA licensing prior to calling for written submissions,[4] the Government's response on that aspect of the inquiry was available for interested parties to read and comment on in their written submissions. Additionally, some were received after the oral evidence sessions had concluded and some of these commented on the oral evidence.[5] We also received many background papers relating to the inquiry.

6. On 25 November 2009 we took oral evidence from two panels; one focused on NHS funding and provision of homeopathy and the other on MHRA licensing. The expertise of the witnesses on each panel spread across both topics and there was overlap on the issues discussed, particularly in relation to the evidence base. On 30 November 2009 we took oral evidence from Mike O'Brien QC MP, Minister for Health Services, Professor David Harper, Chief Scientist at the Department of Health (DH), and Professor Kent Woods, Chief Executive of the MHRA, on the Government's policies.

7. We carefully considered all the background documents, written submissions and oral evidence in drawing up our conclusions and recommendations. We would like to put on record our thanks to all those who made submissions and gave evidence to the inquiry.

Structure of the report

8. This report is in two parts. Chapter 2 addresses the evidence base for the provision of homeopathy on the NHS. Chapter 3 examines the evidence base for the MHRA's licensing regime for homeopathic products. In each chapter we have adopted the approach we followed in the first Evidence Check inquiry: we have outlined the Government's policy, summarised what we would expect of a good evidence base and then evaluated whether the Government's policy is sufficiently evidence-based (the Evidence Check).

1   Science and Technology Committee, Second Report of Session 2009-10, Evidence Check 1: Early Literacy Interventions, HC 44 Back

2   Ev 60  Back

3   "New Inquiry, Evidence Check: Homeopathy", House of Commons Science and Technology Committee press notice No. 11, Session 2008-09  Back

4   Ev 60 Back

5   For example, Ev 189-194 Back

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Prepared 22 February 2010