“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.

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  • wild turkey

    “My plea is simply for honesty. Let people vote for what they want, but tell them the truth about what they are voting for. These structures are politically implausible and the evidence to date has shown they don’t do anything at all to help human beings in Northern Ireland. The argument that this information is not relevant or important for citizens is quite simply ridiculous. If the executive is unable to abide by any efficacious ethical code, then they should change their code and be clear that it is alright to put posturing before the fundamental material interests of the wider populace.”

  • Pete Baker


    Try to keep the focus on the actual topic.

  • wild turkey

    Fair point Pete.

    Apologies. Full stop.

    I took a wrong turn when I read “faith based” in one of the links.

    You raise a serious and fundamental issue; science vs bad/no science and the extent to which the consumer/taxpayer is exposed to and exploited by the latter.

    When I read BOOTS PLC state that:-

    ‘Homeopathy is recognised by the NHS and many health professionals’

    Should this be taken that homeopathic remedies, and their providers/practioners, are in any way funded by the NHS?

    If yes, does this include NI?


  • Pete Baker

    No problem, wt.

    “Should this be taken that homeopathic remedies, and their providers/practioners, are in any way funded by the NHS?

    If yes, does this include NI?”

    From the original NIO statement on this ‘pilot scheme’.

    Patients in the two pilot areas of Belfast and Derry will be able to avail of therapies such as osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage and homeopathy.

  • Rory

    For those who would like an entertaining, enlivening introduction to the dubious merits of the non-scientific faith based scam industry I can do no better than to recommend Christopher Brookmyre’s novel Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks. For those who have not yet encountered Brookmyre or his anti-hero, Jack Parlabane who entertainingly and cleverly reveals more of the mad corruption of British politics than any author currently in print I do recommend him to you. He is what Colin Bateman might aspire to be yet with so much more intelligence and writer’s courage and all with the added beauty of being set in Scotland, if ye ken.

    Try here for a flavour:


    …and do keep firing those shots across their bow, Pete, you are the best gunner we have against that fleet of the people’s enemy on this leaky old boat of Slugger’s. There is no point in hitting ’em below decks right in the arsenal if even death itself does not deter them.

    But those of us who, if we have not yet “seen the Light”, have at least observed the benefits of the Enlightenment and all that progressed, however slowly therefrom. And in its spirit (see! we secularists can do spirit just as good as you voodoo vendors) we have a duty to our fellow humans and indeed to all that we are capable of knowing and helping to grow in this wondrous universe – and that duty includes exposing those charlatans who would exploit the present limitations of human knowledge with their self certified “God given duty ” or “communality with the Spirits of the Universe” or whatever may be the flavour of the age of the rubber duck merchants.

    However, having said all that I must not be uncharitable must I? For after all they do mean well, don’t they?. Just like dear old Doctor Shipman.

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks Rory.

    I think.. ;o)

  • Rory

    Just keep on thinking, Pete. Unlike acupuncture it is unlikely to be harmful and even some bishops, I am told, have been known to benefit from the therapeutic effects of thought. We must all pray that more bishops so benefit.

    Mustn’t we?