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UK panel slams homeopathy funding

London, February 22, 2010

Britain should end its state funding for homeopathic treatments because they are "scientifically implausible" and work no better than placebos, a parliamentary panel said on Monday.

The Science and Technology committee said homeopathic products are not medicines and should no longer be licensed by medicines regulators.   

Homeopathy producers should not be allowed to make medical claims on product labels without evidence they work, it added.

The committee accused the government of sending out mixed messages about homeopathic remedies by saying that while there is no evidence to back them, they can still be paid for by Britain's public National Health Service (NHS).

"It sets an unfortunate precedent for the department of health to consider that the existence of a community which believes that homeopathy works is 'evidence' enough to continue spending public money on it," committee chairman Phil Willis said in a statement.
"This also sends out a confused message, and has potentially harmful consequences."    

Ministers estimate the NHS spends around 152,000 pounds ($235,000) -- a tiny fraction of its around 100 billion pound budget -- on homeopathic remedies each year.

In its report on homeopathy, the committee agreed with the government that evidence shows homeopathy is not efficacious -- meaning it works no better than a placebo, or dummy pill. "Explanations for why homeopathy would work are scientifically implausible," it said.

Homeopathy, which originated in Germany in the 1700s, is based on a principle that "like cures like." The theory is that substances that prompt certain symptoms can also treat those same symptoms if given in a highly diluted form.

The practice is controversial because many of its central concepts do not accord with modern science. Many studies have found homeopathic remedies are no more effective than placebos.

Critics say the homeopathy industry has made millions out of selling little more than "sugar pills" to vulnerable patients.   

Paula Ross, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths, rejected the findings and accused the committee of wasting public money by turning its inquiry from one on the government's policy on homeopathy to one about whether homeopathy works -- a question she said the committee was ill-equipped to answer.

"We would have preferred to see the government put money into much needed research into how actually homeopathy works," she said in a statement.   

She argued that evidence shows homeopathy is effective beyond placebo, but "scientists have yet to understand how".   

The committee said homeopathy was "a placebo treatment" and the government should have a policy on placebos -- an area it said ministers were reluctant touch because prescribing placebos "usually relies on some degree of patient deception".

"Beyond ethical issues and the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship, prescribing pure placebos is bad medicine," it said. - Reuters

Tags: UK | Medicine | Funding | Homeopathy |

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