22 Feb, 10 | by Iain Brassington
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report on homeopathy was published today (and is available here). The findings have not been diluted; the Committee didn’t sugar the sugar pill.
The theory behind the practice is accepted as bunk:
We conclude that the principle of like-cures-like is theoretically weak. It fails to provide a credible physiological mode of action for homeopathic products. We note that this is the settled view of medical science. [...]
We consider the notion that ultra-dilutions can maintain an imprint of substances previously dissolved in them to be scientifically implausible.
the permissibility of the use of homeopathy is held to be dubious at best:
We do not doubt that homeopathy makes some patients feel better. However, patient satisfaction can occur through a placebo effect alone and therefore does not prove the efficacy of homeopathic interventions. [...]
When doctors prescribe placebos, they risk damaging the trust that exists between them and their patients. [...]
For patient choice to be real choice, patients must be adequately informed to understand the implications of treatments. For homeopathy this would certainly require an explanation that homeopathy is a placebo. When this is not done, patient choice is meaningless. When it is done, the effectiveness of the placebo—that is, homeopathy—may be diminished. We argue that the provision of homeopathy on the NHS, in effect, diminishes, not increases, informed patient choice. [...]
and the policy implications are made clear:
There has been enough testing of homeopathy and plenty of evidence showing that it is not efficacious. Competition for research funding is fierce and we cannot see how further research on the efficacy of homeopathy is justified in the face of competing priorities.
The Government should stop allowing the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.
I think that the point about trust may raise a number of questions – whether trust is diminished depends a lot on what, exactly, patients want and expect – but, in general, it looks like the ball is firmly in the MHRA’s court.