The House of Commons select committee on science and technology has been examining homeopathy, and their report has been just been released. The main focus will be on the committee’s view that both NHS funding and MHRA licencing should be withdrawn. I’ll focus on the parts related more directly to Pharmacy and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB). First the good:
- The RPSGB is described as being firmly in the “critic” camp against homeopathy, arguing that “no plausible scientific reason has yet been proposed as to why it should work”. (Page 14)
- The RPSGB is cited in the decision to correctly inform patients about homeopathy: “It is essential […] that the patient is given the appropriate information to make these informed choices and as a consequence it should be clear to the patient that there is no scientific evidence for homeopathy.” (page 26)
- The RPSGB concerns about the homeopathy literature’s weaknesses and how this literature is used to assess homeopathic preparations by the MHRA are noted. (page 33)
- The RPSGB expressed concerns over the legitimisation of homeopathy caused by sale of homeopathy in pharmacies and MHRA licensing scheme. (page 39)
and the bad:
- Criticism of the RPSGB suggestion on advice for patient. RPSGB suggest telling patient there is no evidence; committee argue that the only advice that can be given is the product is a placebo. (page 39).
- Enforcement activities. The strongest criticism of the RPSGB comes in a criticism of their regulatory role. Investigations of homeopathic pharmacies selling anti-malaria homeopathic remedies still not concluded 4 years after raised (page 41).
The RPSGB do come across as a slightly confused organisation, who have struggled through the the past few months to re-align their views on homeopathy. The evidence to the committee was seemingly at odds with the material on their website. Thankfully, the scientific view appears to have won out, and it is expected that new guidance to pharmacists will be science-based.
There are two recommendations at the end of the report relating to pharmacy.
30. We consider that the way to deal with the sale of homeopathic products is to remove any medical claim and any implied endorsement of efficacy by the MHRA—other than where its evidential standards used to assess conventional medicines have been met—and for the labelling to make it explicit that there is no scientific evidence that homeopathic products work beyond the placebo effect. (Paragraph 146)
31. Although it goes wider than the scope of this Evidence Check inquiry we must put on record our concern about the length of time the RPSGB appears to be taking to investigate and reach conclusions on cases where it has been alleged that its guidelines on the sale of homeopathic products have been breached. We recommend that the Government enquires into whether the RPSGB, and from the 2010 handover, the General Pharmaceutical Council, is doing an adequate job in respect of the time taken to pursue complaints. (Paragraph 151)
The committee stops short of suggesting homeopathy should not be sold by pharmacies, instead preferring that they are sold honestly. The central problem with homeopathy is the legitimacy given to it by NHS funding and government regulation. Tackling that will improve the position pharmacists are put in.
However, there is still plenty of work to be done in pharmacy. How can it be that there is a registered pharmacy regulated by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society supplying Leptospira, leprosy, and hepatitis remedies openly over the internet? It’s hard to reconcile that pharmacy’s continued registration with the Society’s position on homeopathy.