In Depth

Homeopathy treatment: what the science says

Head of NHS urges medical watchdog to blacklist the ‘fundamentally flawed’ treatments

The chief executive of the NHS has expressed “serious concerns” about homeopathy in a letter to the Professional Standards Authority. 

Simon Stevens and NHS England medical director Stephen Powis are urging the watchdog to de-list the Society of Homeopaths from its official register of professional organisations, The Guardian reports. They warn that the accreditation of Britain’s biggest homeopathic society gives a “false impression” that homeopathic treatments are scientifically established. 

In the letter, dated 22 October, the health service bosses wrote: “While the Society of Homeopaths may appear to meet some of the PSA’s procedural standards, the basis of their practice remains fundamentally flawed.”

The pair also said that some homeopaths “spread misinformation about vaccines”, adds The Times.

In a separate statement, Stevens said: “Anything that gives homeopathy a veneer of credibility risks chancers being able to con more people into parting with their hard-earned cash in return for bogus treatments which at best do nothing, and at worst can be potentially dangerous.” 

What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy uses highly diluted substances that practitioners claim can cause the body to heal itself. It is based on ideas developed in the 1790s by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann.

According to the Society of Homopaths, the “holistic medicine” is based on the principle of “like treats like”, where a “substance which can cause symptoms when taken in large doses can be used in small amounts to treat similar symptoms”. 

“For example, drinking too much coffee can cause sleeplessness and agitation, so according to this principle, when made into a homeopathic medicine, it could be used to treat people suffering from sleeplessness and agitation,” says the society’s website. 

Advocates claim that the more a substance is diluted, the greater its power to treat symptoms.

Prince Charles is a supporter of homeopathic treatments and was criticised by medical professionals earlier this year after becoming a patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy.

What does the NHS say about homeopathy?

A 2010 report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded that homeopathic remedies perform “no better than placebos”.

The review also found that the principles on which homeopathic treatments are based are “scientifically implausible” - a view shared by the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies.

The NHS website says there is “no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition”. 

In 2017, NHS England recommended that GPs and other prescribers should stop providing it.

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