You may have heard recently that the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Science and Technology heard a panel of oral evidence about homeopathy. It’s a very good watch and I recommend it, even if just to see how subcommittees work (they ask some very good questions). You can watch it here on the House of Commons website, although it’s a bit fiddly with plugins and things, I had to try several times before it worked, and do bear in mind that the player takes a few seconds to load.
Anyway as a result of this, I understand that the Subcommittee will be recommending to the government that they stop funding homeopathy and that they do not make an exception for homeopathic products in terms of licencing.
One of the members of the panel was Paul Bennett from Boots, who stated basically that as long as people want the homeopathic remedies, Boots has no problem selling it. The Merseyside Skeptics Society has written an open letter to Boots which has already been picked up by Skepchicks and Richard Dawkins. I’m posting it here because I agree with it.
There is also more information about this case on the new blog A Glasgow Skeptic, which I’ll also be adding to my blogroll.
An Open Letter to Alliance Boots
The Boots brand is synonymous with health care in the United Kingdom. Your website speaks proudly about your role as a health care provider and your commitment to deliver exceptional patient care. For many people, you are their first resource for medical advice; and their chosen dispensary for prescription and non-prescription medicines. The British public trusts Boots.
However, in evidence given recently to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, you admitted that you do not believe homeopathy to be efficacious. Despite this, homeopathic products are offered for sale in Boots pharmacies – many of them bearing the trusted Boots brand.
Not only is this two-hundred-year-old pseudo-therapy implausible, it is scientifically absurd. The purported mechanisms of action fly in the face of our understanding of chemistry, physics, pharmacology and physiology. As you are aware, the best and most rigorous scientific research concludes that homeopathy offers no therapeutic effect beyond placebo, but you continue to sell these products regardless because “customers believe they work”. Is this the standard you set for yourselves?
The majority of people do not have the time or inclination to check whether the scientific literature supports the claims of efficacy made by products such as homeopathy. We trust brands such as Boots to check the facts for us, to provide sound medical advice that is in our interest and supply only those products with a demonstrable medical benefit.
We don’t expect to find products on the shelf at our local pharmacy which do not work.
Not only are these products ineffective, they can also be dangerous. Patients may delay seeking proper medical assistance because they believe homeopathy can treat their condition. Until recently, the Boots website even went so far as to tell patients that “after taking a homeopathic medicine your symptoms may become slightly worse,” and that this is “a sign that the body’s natural energies have started to counteract the illness”. Advice such as this directly encourages patients to wait before seeking real medical attention, even when their condition deteriorates.
We call upon Boots to withdraw all homeopathic products from your shelves. You should not be involved in the sale of ineffective products, because your customers trust you to do what is right for their health. Surely you agree that your commitment to excellent patient care is better served by supplying only those products whose claims can be substantiated by rigorous scientific research? Or do you really believe that Boots should be in the business of selling placebos to the sick and the injured?
The support lent by Boots to this quack therapy contributes directly to its acceptance as a valid medical treatment by the British public, acceptance it does not warrant and support it does not deserve. Please do the right thing, and remove this bogus therapy from your shelves.
Merseyside Skeptics Society