Doctors hit out at homeopathy moveClaims can be made about relieving symptoms

26 October 2006

Pills in a cup

Scientific organisations and doctors are warning that changes to the regulation of homeopathic medicines could put patients at risk, according to media reports today.

The BBC says that hundreds of doctors and scientists have signed a statement opposing rules that allow homeopathic medicines to make medical claims.

It also reports that the Royal Society and Medical Research Council have spoken out against the changes, which are set to be discussed in the House of Lords today.

In September, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) introduced rules to allow homeopathic remedy manufacturers to specify the ailments for which they can be used.

Colds and coughs

Homeopathic remedies are now allowed to indicate what sort of symptoms they can relieve, although this is limited to minor ailments such as colds, coughs and hay fever.

But under the rules, manufacturers don't have to provide evidence of efficacy from clinical trials and need to show only that the product has been used to treat those particular conditions within the homeopathic industry.

However, in a statement to the BBC, the Royal College of Pathologists said it was ‘deeply alarmed’ that the regulation of medicine had `moved away from science and clear information for the public’.

The Medical Research Council said claims shouldn't be made about efficacy of products without ‘rigorous and objective evidence’, and the BioSciences Federation claimed that the MHRA's had ‘bowed to industry pressure’.

Sense about Science

Campaign group Sense about Science has been collating opinion on the issue. Its chair, Lord Dick Taverne, said: ‘As many of the medical specialists contacting us have pointed out, evidence-based medicine has been a major public gain of the twentieth century.

‘This is the first time, since the thalidomide tragedy and the 1968 Medicines Act that the regulation of medicines has moved away from the science rather than towards it.’

Which? health policy expert Frances Blunden warned: 'This approach gives homeopathic products the veneer of efficacy. Claims for any homeopathic products ought to be based on independently verified and reliable evidence of their efficacy. Without this there's a danger that consumers are being misled and ultimately ripped off. Consumers shouldn't be fooled that despite homeopathic medicines being "alternative", there is still a significant profit-making industry behind them.'