I was both dismayed and pleased to see the BBC Rip Off Britain episode about the sale of homeopathy in pharmacy.[fast forward to 24 minutes to see the piece & @cathrynjbrown‘s comments – The video will be there for 27 days from now].
Dismay springs from the sampled pharmacies failure to follow existing sensible professional guidance about homeopathy provided by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. I’m pleased, since the more light that falls on pharmacy’s awkward relationship with this unscientific treatment, the more likely our profession are to be shamed out of supplying it. At present, the continued sale of this nonsense by professionals with a 4 year scientific Master’s degree, to a lower standard than counter staff in Holland and Barrett, means we deserve to be collectively succussed on our collective heads with a large Martindale.
The Society of Homeopaths argued at the end of the programme that pharmacists need to be trained in homeopathy. Yet, the problem seems to be that pharmacies that have better training in homeopathy are the actual problem, as evidenced by their performance (here, here, and in the following video).
What pharmacists need to do, is use their 5 years of scientific clinical training.
I recently spoke at a meeting on homeopathy at the Royal Pharmaceutical Conference arguing that the sale of homeopathic remedies is incompatible with modern pharmacy practice. One of the other panel members was a homeopath, a former senior medicines information pharmacist, who was against homeopathy being sold in pharmacies because pharmacies didn’t provide the detailed consultation process that homeopaths did. This was also one of my arguments, since evidence suggests that it is the consultation process, rather than the ‘activity’ of the remedy , that has the potential of a benefit. (1) This rarely happens in normal pharmacies (or even medical consultations).
My jaw dropped however, when the homeopath started to describe the use of homeopathy in acute lymphoblastic anaemia, asthma, and temporal lobe epilepsy, claiming beneficial results. And this is the problem. Homeopathy is anti-scientific, at odds with the known rules of the universe we live in, never mind lacking in evidence of improved clinical outcomes. And once one believes in homeopathy, other more dangerous cranky views can take hold (skepticism about vaccines or chemotherapeutics being obvious examples). Homeopathy is a ‘gateway drug’ to poor thinking.
Pharmacists are now pitching themselves as experts in medication optimisation. We have huge problems to tackle as part of a multi-disciplinary team to maximise the risk/benefit of medicines, to help patients, reduce waste, and save costs for the NHS. If we are to further develop new clinical roles in community clinical pharmacy practice, our implicit professional endorsement of homeopathy by stocking it in pharmacies is a ball and chain.
If you doubt this, then go and speak to senior negotiators on the Pharmacy contract, and ask them what effect the continued association of community pharmacy with homeopathy has. This tiny financial aspect of pharmacies has a large negative influence on our future as a profession. Ironically, the only circumstances in which homeopathy’s dilution rule actually works.
If you are a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, then we are currently conducting a survey of our members’ views to help inform us about the extent of homeopathy use, and their views on its supply from pharmacy. Please help inform the debate .
1. Brien S, Lachance L, Prescott P, McDermott C, Lewith G. Homeopathy has clinical benefits in rheumatoid arthritis patients that are attributable to the consultation process but not the homeopathic remedy: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Rheumatology 2010: doi:10.1093/rheumatology/keq234