Humanists generally support scientists and researchers in their quest for knowledge and the improvement of human health and wellbeing. Much scientific evidence had been put forward refuting the claims that homeopathy (a system which is based on treating the individual with highly diluted substances) can improve health and be used to treat various illnesses.
It is the BHA’s position that homeopathic treatments should not be funded by the state, that no further public money should be spent researching such treatments when the evidence that they work no better than a placebo is overwhelming, and that pharmacists who do sell homeopathic products have a duty to make clear that there is no scientific or clinical evidence base to support the efficacy of those products.
What we’re doing
In February 2010, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee produced a report on the available evidence regarding homeopathy. It concluded that ‘The Government’s position on homeopathy is confused. On the one hand, it accepts that homeopathy is a placebo treatment. This is an evidence-based view. On the other hand, it funds homeopathy on the NHS without taking a view on the ethics of providing placebo treatments. We argue that this undermines the relationship between NHS doctors and their patients, reduces real patient choice and puts patients’ health at risk. The Government should stop allowing the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.’ The BHA welcomed the report and called for ‘public funds [to only be] spent on treatments that have been proven to work, and on research that is backed up by scientific evidence.’
In June 2010, the BHA responded to a consultation on new guidance for pharmacists produced by the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland which suggested that pharmacists have a duty to advise patients that there is ‘no scientific or clinical evidence base for the efficacy of homeopathic products, beyond a placebo effect.’ We also welcomed the British Medical Association’s (BMA) call to stop the NHS funding homeopathy at their 2010 annual conference, 2013 comments by England’s Chief Medical Officer that homeopathy is ‘rubbish’, and comments to the same effect by the outgoing Chief Scientific Advisor later that same year. APPHG Vice Chair Lord Taverne of Pimlico also challenged the ongoing funding in the House of Lords.
In 2011, we campaigned against an Early Day Motion advocating for further state funding for homeopathy, and in favour of an amendment putting across the opposite view. The eventual result was that the original EDM was withdrawn.
In 2008 state funding was granted for the first time to a Steiner school, namely Steiner Academy Hereford. From 2012-14 funding was further granted to three Steiner Free Schools, in Frome, Exeter and Bristol. In 2012 the BHA revealed that Steiner Academy Hereford gives homeopathy to students for ailments such as burns, and uses a science curriculum book that promotes belief in homeopathy. Subsequent BHA work on Steiner schools has led to no further Free School proposals being granted state funding.
In 2015, the Good Thinking Society, set up by BHA Patron Dr Simon Singh, threatened to judicially review a decision by Liverpool NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCGs) over its decision to continue to spend state funds on homeopathy. As a result, the CCG decided to conduct a review of its spending. Good Thinking also undertook a survey of UK NHS spending on homeopathy, concluding it totalled about £5 million. Several more CCGs have also subsequently withdrawn funding.
The BHA consults with its members on homeopathy and many other scientific and ethical issues. We welcome your comments on these subjects, which help us to form our campaigns. To date, members have rarely expressed opposition to our campaigns against the state funding of homeopathy.
You can also research and take up these issues with your MP and/or local authority, or write to a newspaper. Our Take Action Toolkit has advice on how to go about this.