Is Statutory Self-Regulation the Answer for Homeopathy?

The ambush by the Prince of Wales on the various factions of Alternative Medicine by announcing the set up of the Natural Healthcare Council, Ofquack, is starting to have effects. In the Guardian yesterday, Polly Toynbee ran an article entitled, Quackery and superstition – available soon on the NHS. She argues that we should,

Put not your trust in princes, especially not princes who talk to plants.

and despairs how all this non-science will be given new authority. She says,

All this might just be funny but harmless. Does it matter if people waste £130m a year on potions? It matters that the NHS spends £50m on alternative treatments, a figure expected to rise soon to £200m. It matters that Newsnight found homeopaths advising patients visiting malaria areas not to take anti-malarial drugs. And that patients are told not to give their children the MMR jab. The alternative lobby replies that conventional medicine can also do more harm than good.

Now, the Society of Homeopaths have been fairly quiet of late, but they have decided to respond in their usual way with a rushed out press release. It gives more insight into their thinking about Ofquack. Paula Ross, Chief Executive, starts off,

The proposed regulation is actually about control of the practitioners rather than the therapy and its primary aim is rightly protection of the public.

This confirms what we have thought a the quackometer is their greatest fear – others controlling their therapy. “It is fine to keep a list, but don’t meddle with our beliefs.”
But their fears go further,

Whilst The Society welcomes the creation of a Natural Healthcare Council, it is greatly concerned at its proposed inclusion of homeopathy, notably without consultation since, as a profession, in 2006, homeopathy unanimously concluded that this voluntary register was not appropriate for its needs and the public who use it.

This is because homeopathy was already far more advanced in self-regulation than the other therapies involved; it has (as identified by The House of Lords Select Committee on Science & Technology) a self-contained system for diagnosis and treatment of individual rather than being complementary; its training is far longer and educational outcomes much higher.

Through The Society of Homeopaths, homeopathy already has a far more rigorous regulatory process in place than anything proposed to date by the Foundation. And what’s more, our members want much more than voluntary regulation: they want statutory regulation. Hardly the behaviour of charlatans.

So, no need to include the homeopaths because we are tons better than the other flaky lot.

This is quite an interesting statement. The Society makes it clear that it does not consider itself to be a complementary therapy. Homeopathy is strictly alternative, or in their words a ‘complete system of medicine’. Homeopaths define themselves in opposition to real medicine. They derogatorily call doctors ‘allopaths’ and accuse them of being in the pay of pharmaceutical companies, and that all they are interested in is ‘alleviating symptoms, keeping people sick and using very dangerous drugs on patients that kill them’.

It is for this very reason that homeopaths should never be allowed to self-regulate. The reason is not that I believe homeopaths to be ‘charlatans’, but rather the far more scary prospect that they actually believe what they say.

Let us look at the original reasons the House of Lords used to look into the regulation of non-medically qualified health care workers. The noble Lords saw homeopaths as being a special case within the CAM world,

Of all the professions in our Group 1, homeopathy carries the fewest inherent risks in its practice, at least in relation to the consumption of homeopathic medicines. We are also aware that there is unusually strong contention about the evidence available for its efficacy. These two points could be seen as arguments against statutory regulation which could be considered unnecessary due to the limited risks and could also be seen as awarding a degree of legitimacy to a therapy about which much of the conventional scientific world has strong doubts and reservations.

But, an ermine clad warning is given to the homeopaths,

While the practice of homeopathy may itself be free from risk, it does create an opportunity for diverting conventional diagnosis and treatment away from patients with conditions where conventional treatment is well-established, as some patients seem to see it as offering a complete alternative to conventional medicine. Such attitudes mean that homeopaths are in a position of great responsibility. It is imperative that there is a way of ensuring that this position is handled professionally, that all homeopaths are registered, that they know the limits of their competence, and that there are disciplinary procedures with real teeth in place.

The Lords wonder if protection of title would help in this role. As a result of the review, the homeopaths were sent packing to get their house in order. They have failed spectacularly. The Lords are quite clear in their report that a non-statutory self-regulated profession needs a single register and accountable practices. The homeopaths are showing no signs of being able to cope with either. Despite being in a ‘position of great responsibility’, the danger to the public from their strictly alternative beliefs still remains.

The Lords urge the Society of Homeopaths to consider statutory regulation. From the above press release, it looks as if that is what they are now doing. They do not want anything to do with the Natural Healthcare Council as that would just be humiliating. But there are a number of stumbling blocks. The Society do not speak for all homeopaths, there is no single register and so no defined path to achieving this goal. It is not yet clear what SoH want to do. Maybe they just want to wait and see other Homeopath groups, like the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths, fail or merge. Maybe they wait in the hope that someone will just ask them to step into the role of sole Regulator.

However, I believe allowing any homeopathic group to become a sole regulator, statutory or not, would be a huge mistake as it would not meet the simple requirements that a regulator should meet. First and foremost is the protection of the public. As the House of Lords recognised, homeopaths carry great responsibility as many people see them s being primary and sole healthcare providers. The big problem is, and this is missed by the Lords, is that homeopaths see themselves in this role too.

What self-regulation for homeopaths would fail to do would be to allow any objective and evidence-based criteria to be used to judge homeopathy’s effectiveness. This blog and others have been hugely critical of homeopaths for their dangerous advice to their customers about malaria treatment, AIDS treatments and the vaccination of children. Homeopaths actively disparage real medicine and its practitioners, they wean their customers of their GP prescribed medications without medical supervision and spread unfounded fear about MMR and other vaccinations.

The Society of Homeopaths say in their press release that they have a “rigorous regulatory process in place”. Many would now strongly dispute that. It is a regulatory process that lacks transparency, that fails to act against the dangerous practices of its members, is willing to publicly misrepresent its actions, and is openly flouted by the Societies directors, fellows and members. To allow this ethos of regulation to become statutorily endorsed would be a grave mistake.

To offer statutory regulation to homeopaths would be to give official endorsement to their delusional beliefs that they offer a genuine alternative to conventional, evidence-based medicine. That cannot be in the best interests of the public. Voluntary self-regulation for homeopaths has been tried and has failed. To now offer statutory self-regulation to homeopaths would just offer state-approval to that failure without addressing the reasons for failure.

What is going to happen next is anyone’s guess. The Princes Foundation for Integrated Health must now surely be aware of the massive problems here. The whole programme of FiH is in jeopardy because its whole ethos is about finding common ground between conventional medicine and the complementary non-medically qualified health workers (quacks). The largest group, the non-medically qualified homeopaths, have made it quite clear that they will not be taking part and that they are deeply hostile to the integrative programme.

To think they ever would be was just plain naivety.

On this theme…

4 Comments on Is Statutory Self-Regulation the Answer for Homeopathy?

  1. Your government has to grow some balls, they’ve tried being polite and it hasn’t worked.
    It’s time for Homeos to be openly accountable, of course they’re resisting the exposure of their in-house discipline as ineffective.

  2. Our government needs to do more than grow some balls, it needs to get it’s sorry head out of its flabby arse and start acting like a real government. Mind you, its no secret that the current establishment consists of a bunch of lying, corrupt, ignorant and cowardly gobshites. I think we were all made brutally aware of that over the MMR scare and the bloody Iraq war.

  3. “…a self-contained system for diagnosis and treatment of individual rather than being complementary,”

    Worth remembering they said that next time they claim that homoeopathy is complementary and they’d never dream of discouraging their clients from getting proper medical treatment.

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