“My plea is simply for honesty..”

There are no signs yet from the Health Minister on whether he intends to continue Peter Hain’s alternative remedy clinical trial scam self-assessing pilot scheme administered by Get Well UK – that pilot scheme should have ended in February this year. The BBC is, I hope, suitably embarrassed by the propaganda they broadcast in May. The use of public funds to provide un-proven treatments is only one aspect of the Un-Enlightenment involved. Another is highlighted in an exchange between Edzard Ernst, co-author of Trick or Treatment and the Laing Chair in Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, and the pharmacist chain Boots – as reported in the Guardian. The report quotes Ernst’s open letter to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and their Journal carries a detailed article by him. From Edzard Ernst’s letter

“My plea is simply for honesty. Let people buy what they want, but tell them the truth about what they are buying. These treatments are biologically implausible and the clinical tests have shown they don’t do anything at all in human beings. The argument that this information is not relevant or important for customers is quite simply ridiculous,” he says. “If they are unable to stick to their ethical code, then they should change their code and be clear that it is alright to put profits before patients.”

The statement from Boots highlights the problem of the NHS providing such remedies

In a statement, a Boots spokesperson said: “Homeopathy is recognised by the NHS and many health professionals and our customers choose to use homeopathy. Boots is committed to providing our customers with a wide range of healthcare products to suit their individual needs, we know that many people believe in the benefits of complementary medicines and we aim to offer the products we know our customers want. Our pharmacists are trained healthcare professionals who provide professional advice within guidance issued by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain regarding the supply of homeopathic products.”

To their credit, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society journal’s editorial acknowledges that there is a problem

Professor Ernst has stated that homoeopathy is faith-based and, like iridology, crystal therapy and flower remedies, is absurd. We take no view on its alleged absurdity. However, we would suggest that there may be a place, where the patient demands it, for harmless faith-based therapies. Whether that place is in a pharmacy is what the profession must address.

Consider this: guidance supporting the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Code of Ethics states that when an over-the-counter medicine is supplied, sufficient advice to ensure its safe and effective use should be provided. But the Society seems to accept that pharmacists are unable to give such advice in the case of homoeopathic medicines.

For in its standards on the sale and supply of complementary medicines, it says that pharmacists should recommend a homoeopathic remedy only where they can be satisfied of its safety and quality — there is no mention of effectiveness.

Unsurprisingly, the Society of Homeopaths insists that homoeopathic remedies work. However, in a letter sent to The Observer in October 2007, it wrote that “it is entirely correct to say that the mechanism of action of homoeopathic medicines has yet to be proven scientifically”. It added: “There are many things that science cannot yet explain.”

But pharmacists are scientists. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society says they are. So, is it ethical for it and its members to continue to condone a therapy that has no apparent basis in science? Whatever patients may want, should pharmacists be recommending, and selling, therapies that have not been scientifically proven?

At least in a pharmacy only the person demanding that “faith-based therapy” pays for it.