The Faculty of Homeopathy are a Shambles and a Bad Joke

eames I have recently criticised the Society of Homeopaths for producing a cherry picked review of the evidence for homeopathy when they tried to counter the World Health Organisation’s statement condemning the use of homeopathy for dangerous diseases like malaria, HIV, TB and childhood diarrhoea. These are big killers around the world and few western homeopaths are seeding dangerous ideas to local communities, especially in Africa, that homeopathic sugar pills can cure these killers.

I was therefore shocked to see that the Faculty of Homeopathy are making similar claims and therefore I must extend my criticism to them. In the past, senior figures within the Faculty have been very critical of the use of homeopathy for such uses. Dr Peter Fisher, Director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, has said about the use of homeopathy to prevent malaria by lay homeopaths:

I’m very angry about it because people are going to get malaria – there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Members of the Faculty of Homeopathy are fully trained and registered doctors in the UK. They are obligated to follow best practice based on sound evidence. The best evidence is that homeopathy is exactly what it looks like – an inert pre-scientific treatment, based on pseudoscientific magical ideas, and unsupported by the totality of science and evidence. If doctors who are members of the Faculty of Homeopathy wish to use homeopathic sugar pills as placebos then one might argue that this is fair enough (although this is not without its ethical dilemmas). In my opinion, to step outside the boundaries of a placebo based therapy for homeopathy is simple quackery.

It is therefore something of a shock to see the Faculty issue a statement that reads: “Homeopathy has place in serious disease”.

Responding to comments made by directors of World Health Organization disease departments concerning homeopathy for serious disease, the Faculty of Homeopathy wishes to point out that in actuality there is some positive evidence in clinical trials for the use of homeopathy in childhood diarrhoea and for seasonal flu1, and that homeopathy can offer patients useful complementary care to help alleviate symptoms. It is inappropriate and ill-informed therefore to state that homeopathy should not be used or is dangerous when used appropriately in childhood diarrhoea or in flu.

This is a staggering statement for a number of reasons. Firstly, the WHO statement covers a number of dangerous diseases including malaria, HIV and TB. The Faculty are silent on these diseases. Instead, the Faculty appear to divert attention away to childhood diarrhoea and the flu. These conditions are still big killers with millions of children at risk an dying from diarrhoea around the world. Why do the Faculty not condemn the lay homeopaths who are in Africa now with their magic sugar pills trying to treat people with these fatal diseases? To remain silent on the issue is a moral failing of the highest order.

The statement goes on:

Dr Sara Eames, [pictured] President of the Faculty of Homeopathy states: "Our practitioners would never deprive patients of effective conventional medicine for serious disease. However, millions die each year as those affected have no access to these drugs. It therefore seems reasonable to consider what beneficial role homeopathy could play. What is needed is further research and investment into homeopathy.

No Sara. Further research is not required. Homeopathy is simple nonsense. Clinical research will not make magic sugar pills into medicine. Clinical research has failed to come up with a convincing evidence base in 200 years. There is no reason to believe more research will be fruitful. By delaying making condemning statements in the vain hope that more research will pull a rabbit out of a hat is to inflict more quackery on people in developing countries that need unambiguous condemnation of the homeopaths’ practices.

Sara Eames needs to answer a few questions: Even if the selective trials you quote do represent a positive effect for homeopathy, under what conditions would an individualised approach to the homeopathic treatment of childhood diarrhoea be preferable to the standard ‘allopathic’ treatment of oral rehydration solutions that cost pennies and save countless lives? What set of conditions would prevent children in the developing world to not have access to these ‘drugs’ but instead can afford a comfortable individualised consultation with a homeopath, taking into account their dreams, feelings, hopes and fears as you cranky homeopaths tend to do? And then, do you really trust these three small and underpowered trials from the same author to provide a sufficient evidence base to make your recommendation?

And as for flu. You quote two flu trials from the ‘80s. Since then there has been a Cochrane review that showed at best there was an effect of reducing flu symptoms by a few hours. It is not clinically significant and almost certainly an artefact. The Cochrane review concludes “Though promising, the data were not strong enough to make a general recommendation to use Oscillococcinum for first-line treatment of influenza and influenza-like syndromes. […] Current evidence does not support a preventative effect of Oscillococcinum-like homeopathic medicines in influenza and influenza-like syndromes.” It is not part of their overview for the treatment of flu.

The Faculty of Homeopathy had a clear choice here. It could have come out and presented the reasonable, conservative and insightful face of homeopathy by supporting the WHO and condemning homeopaths who treat dangerous diseases with these placebos. It did not do that. Is there anyone within the homeopathic community who is prepared to publicly condemn the excesses of the trade?

What is most shocking here is how trained doctors appear to be prepared to deflect criticism away from the worst excesses of the medically untrained lay homeopathy trade, as represented by the Society of Homeopaths. Lay homeopathy is characterised by a deep aversion to real medical treatments (which they call allopathy). It is fundamental to their beliefs that chronic illnesses are actually caused by the use of allopathic medicine. That is why they are almost universally against public health measures like immunisation and many believe that the anti-retrovirals that can save the lives of people with HIV are actually harmful. The Faculty should be making its position very clear in condemning the use of homeopathic sugar pills for the treatment of serious illnesses, just as the World Health Organisation has done. Instead it appears to appease the practitioners of this dangerous quackery with statements based on a selective and half baked review of the evidence. That is pretty shambolic and, as a lives are at stake, a very bad joke.

The Faculty has a statutory duty regarding the education of doctors, vets and dentists regarding homeopathy. Its aims are stated as being:

1 To provide high quality information to the public about the benefits of homeopathy

2 To educate doctors and other statutorily registered health professionals in homeopathy

3  To encourage more research into the effectiveness of homeopathy

4 To promote wider access to homeopathy for everyone

This press release looks merely likely a piece of promotion for homeopathy at the expense of providing ‘high quality information’ and ‘education’. Can we trust the Faculty to do its job?

On this theme…

30 Comments on The Faculty of Homeopathy are a Shambles and a Bad Joke

  1. It's a bizarre statement to say the least. Whilst I can understand that the FoH may wish to "defend" homeopathy from "attack", ignoring the legitimate public health concerns raised seems daft. It's pretending that the likes of Jeremy Sherr and Peter Chappell don't exist and never happened.

  2. Quite.

    What I find quite bizarre is that the Faculty must represent the more intelligent end of the homeopathic community. They must realise that the thrust and focus of much criticism of homeopathy in the UK is its inability to police its own boundaries and pull in its dangerous excesses in such things as trying to treat malaria/HIV etc.

    Also, homeopathy in the NHS is under significant threat. By failing to draw a line in the sand and condemn their lay colleagues for this appalling nonsense they continue to attract the ire of critics. If they were to do the right thing and, say, support the WHO statement then they could go a long way to diffusing the criticism of NHS homeopathic quackery and might well earn a reprieve.

    It is all very strange and counter-productive behaviour showing little insight into the issues.

  3. Andy, do you think the Faculty have 'little insight' or do you think it is more to do with the fact that they seem to have formed an alliance with the SoH (and perhaps others) in promotional activities (according to their latest annual report)?

    It seems to me that they have made a pact with the devil to present a united PR front to the nation, and unfortunately the devil is moronic. The Faculty and their leading lights can't condemn the use of homeopathy in the developing world because their collaborators in the SoH are funding it! One wonders if this sorry mess they are in could have been resolved years ago if the issues the newsnight malaria report raised had been dealt with at the time.

  4. There is one particular paragraph of this piece above that seems especially mischievous and that is the one beginning "Sara Eames needs to answer a few questions". There is a false 'either or' scenario proposed of individualised homeopathic remedies or rehydration which is clearly ridiculous. I think this is skating on thin ice, It avoids being libellous by posing just a question but the intention is obviously to smear. No responsible professional person would put the remedy first in a critical situation such as infant diarrhoea. This is because of three reasons:
    1) It has never been proved that every person responds to homeopathic remedies
    2) No homeopath can honestly be 100% certain that the correct remedy is being prescribed.
    3) There is currently no way to prove that your remedy kit is devoid of duds.

  5. Stewart, surely those three reasons you give would exclude the prescription of homeopathy for any serious condition rendering its application in the developing world largely void?
    Of course homeopaths do prescribe for serious conditions and they do undermine medicine with a strong evidence base, hence the problem. Incidentally, why won't you engage with the issues raise in the blog post? Do you think citing the dreaded word 'libellous' is a substitute for engagement?

  6. Hi Gimpy, I used the word 'critical' which implies a hazardous sitution where time is very much of the essence eg a dehydrated baby. Waiting for a homeopathic remedy to work without rehydrating and giving electrolytes would clearly be criminal and bonkers. The remedy cannot produce water and missing minerals out of thin air. Homeopaths would however welcome the opportunity to give additional support of course. The right remedy would normally be expected to aid rehydration.
    A 'serious' situation as you worded it, might be one where all modern expertise and equipment is already available and a homeopathic remedy will pose no danger at all.

  7. So Stewart, you think that homeoapths have a role to play treating serious diseases in the developing world? DO you think they should get ethics approval for their experiments? Do you think they should, as they are doing, be undermining conventional treatments? Do you think the lack of engagement on these serious issues is a problem the homeopathic community needs to confront?

    etc…

  8. If it is not undermining conventional treatments I see no problem. Like you, I don't agree with vulnerable people being used as guinea pigs. I discussed these issues with people who travel abroad on these activities and they are adamant that they have no wish to interfere with regular treatment. They see themselves as an adjunct.
    As you are aware there is a small number of non-medically qualified students who get fanatical about homeopathy and see virtually any orthodox treatment as 'suppression'. This kind of standpoint would not be welcomed by the people that I know. Any properly educated person is aware that there are many situations where homeopathy is useless eg a pregnant woman with a very short umbilical cord will die along with her baby if armed only with a homeopathic remedy kit and no help from a hospital.
    Hahnemann himself made it perfectly clear that the physician must first look to any 'obstacles to cure'. Comme sense must come first.

  9. Stewart, "a small number of non-medically qualified students who get fanatical about homeopathy and see virtually any orthodox treatment as 'suppression'"

    Oh come on, stop trying to portray the situation as it isn't. The non-medically qualified homeopaths and their societies, from top to bottom, are endorsing bizarre and dangerous ideas with respect to AIDS, malaria, TB and others, they have refused to take action against homeopaths who do go to developing countries to ply their trade and, in the case of the SoH, their charity arm actually funds this stuff. NOt only that but they are making no attempt to rein in the excesses of the profession, the Faculty of Homeopaths, who are at least properly regulated by virtue of being proper medical professionals, seem blind to this and are allying themselves with these out of control homeopaths.

    Who will control the excesses of homeopathy if not the homeopaths themselves?

  10. Gimpy
    Those homeopaths you point out in Africa are all working with local Drs helping with the treatment of poor people. Have you any eveidence that any people are being denied access to any treatments? Post some evidence from officals in these countries that homeopaths are in any way causing harm and I will believe you.

  11. If these homeopaths working e.g. in Africa are working (in what does this "work" consist"?) with doctors, see themselves as "an adjunct" and so forth, just what is their contribution to the situation? Wouldn't they be more useful just straight giving to Oxfam and staying out of the way?
    Surely any surplus people hanging around are "doing harm" – of which grumpy wishes evidence – in the negative sense of taking up resources and not doing anything necessary.

  12. Grumpy, I don't have the refs to hand but Chappell, Sherr, Scholten, et al all denigrate evidence based medicine and aren't shy in promoting homeopathy as superior. Also, will you address the questions of ethical approval for these trials? Will you address the impact these individuals are having on the reputation of homeopathy? Will you address the inadequate responses from all sections of the homeopathic community?

    etc…

    It's the big issues of operating outside the confines of medical ehtics that need to be adressed and that so far aren't.

  13. "Those homeopaths you point out in Africa are all working with local Drs helping with the treatment of poor people."

    All? Forgive me if I am sceptical of that statement. Certainly in the case of Sherr, some of the claims he has made about "support" from various people have been strenuously denied by the people in question.

  14. Trials Gimpy? Prove to me that this isnt just about a series of anecdotes. You and probably 100s of other highly qualified scientists advised the Tanzanian authorities 9 months ago about Sherr. Since then we have had the letter from the young scientists and then the statement from WHO. The Tanzanians would have been daft not to investigate what was going on. If any of the above are conducting trials and denigrating evidence medicine then I would have thought that they would have been kicked out by now or imprisoned.
    They must all have considerable local support among the medical authorities.

  15. Could it be that your Idiot Dauphin has applied pressure on the faculty?
    He has undue influence and undue willful ignorance.

  16. "Hi Gimpy, I used the word 'critical' which implies a hazardous sitution where time is very much of the essence eg a dehydrated baby. Waiting for a homeopathic remedy to work without rehydrating and giving electrolytes would clearly be criminal and bonkers. The remedy cannot produce water and missing minerals out of thin air. Homeopaths would however welcome the opportunity to give additional support of course. The right remedy would normally be expected to aid rehydration.
    A 'serious' situation as you worded it, might be one where all modern expertise and equipment is already available and a homeopathic remedy will pose no danger at all."

    Stewart, you seem not to understand much about homeopathy. Its whole point is that it is a complete system of medicine. A patient's symptoms are just evidence of the patient fighting the disease and what the patient needs is a homeopathic potency of something that causes those symptoms. You can't mix logical rational medicine and homeopathy the two don't fit together. What you are doing is playing the careful game of shielding homeopathy's core claims from critical scrutiny, by adding in a bit of real medicine when you are too embarrassed by what homeopathy actually is.

    If you have a dehydrated patient, there is nothing at all in homeopathy about giving that patient a rehydration solution. Remember, Stewart, that dehydration is a symptom showing how the patient's Vital Force is disturbed and is fighting back. What the patient needs is a minimum dose of a potentised remedy of something that apparently led to dehydration when it was 'proved'.

    Yes, folks, I know that is just plain stupid, but homeopathy is just plain stupid and its defenders really hate it when you take its claims at face value and follow them to their logical conclusion. The one thing homeopathy cannot stand up to is having its claims taken seriously: it's stupidity become obvious too quickly.

  17. Sadli, it looks like I posted after Stewart had already left the building, which is a pity, he might have learnt something. (I said "might". I know the odds are low).

  18. Sadly, it looks like I posted after Stewart had already left the building, which is a pity, he might have learnt something. (I said "might". I know the odds are low).

    That's the trouble with homeopathy's apologists. They never stick around to learn the error of their ways.

  19. http://www.homeoint.org/books3/kentlect/lect05.htm

    BSM, small wonder that you despise homeopathy when you have such bizarre beliefs about it! Where did you learn your version of homeopathy? The student bar? Please read the above which is chapter 5 of Kent's Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy. "Discrimination as to the Maintaining External Causes and Surgical Cases"
    This should calm you down (hopefully) and assure you that dehydrated patients would be given water by a homeopath (!)

  20. Ref. GRT/A/03
    Date: 5 Sep 2009

    To: Director General Health
    World Health Organization

    Info: WHO Building, Park Road,
    N.I.H Premises,
    Chak Shahzad,
    Islamabad
    Tel: +92 51 9255184-5, 9255077
    Fax: +92 51 9255083
    Email: qamarz@pak.emro.who.int

    Subject: Verification of Statement issued by DG Health of WHO

    Dear WHO Representative!

    With due respect it is stated that recently a statement with reference to World Health Organization (WHO) is published in various newspapers and also been released at T.V media that “Homeopathic Medicines have no scientific validity in curing Diarrhoea, Malaria, Influenza, T.B and AIDS.” In this regard kindly furnish the following info:-.

    a. Please verify that the statement is officially issued by WHO.
    b. If yes, then why it is not been cited at WHO official web site?
    c. On which scientific basis the statement is issued?
    d. Where the scientific trials/studies were conducted / carried out?
    e. Who carried out the scientific trial on Diarrhoea, Malaria, Influenza, T.B and AIDS diseases?
    f. Who were the members or part of the trial group?
    g. Who have conducted the trials?
    h. The person who conducted the trial, his/her qualification and homeopathic experience and background?
    j. Where I could find and read the findings of that research study in detail?

    On homeopathic medicines, three M.Sc (Hons), One M.Phil and One Ph.D have been completed under the supervision of United Kingdom (UK) qualified Ph.D Supervisors in world recognized Universities of Pakistan. It has been verified that homeopathic medicines do have results against many diseases under controlled studies as well. You can ask for the thesis report.

    It is for your kind info that Homeopathic treatment is very very effective against Diarrhoea, Malaria, Influenza and T.B. But as for as AIDS is concerned, only mild results are obtained. World Health Organization is an impartial and neutral organization/party. The organization should not be biased in its findings and statements. Before issuing controversial statements the organization should consult some research scholars of the same subject rather to base on anti homeopathic organization like “VOICE OF YOUNG SCIENCE NETWORK” which is paid and sponsored organization by the allopathic pharmacies and medical doctors.

    I hope, you will issue necessary clarification statement and your organization will not place hurdles in its HEALTH CARE PROGRAMS just because of false statements received by your department from allopathic group of doctors attached with your organization. Thanking you!

    Yours truly,

    Dr. Mas
    Member GHDA, GHDC

    Office Address:
    Khokhar Building B-16/2016
    New Furniture Market, Railway Road
    Gujrat, PAKISTAN
    Phone: 0092-53-3531658
    Mobile: 0092-300-6263403
    Email: drmasvoice@hotmail.com

  21. I am aware that there has been a letter writing campaign to the WHO in response to their statements.

    Homeopaths could have taken two roads: the first could have been to crack down on their colleagues who risk the lives of their customers with their delusional healing beliefs; the second, is to whine, complain, obfuscate and deny. The latter appears to have been the chosen route.

    And it is shameful that this route appears to have been chosen near universally. Insightless, moronic and dangerous. From the lowliest know-nothing practitioner, to the very top.

    The sooner prosecutions start, the better.

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