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Homeopathy is where the harm is: five unethical effects of funding unscientific ‘remedies’
  1. David M Shaw
  1. Dental School, Faculty of Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Martin Shaw, University of Glasgow, 378 Sauchiehall Street Glasgow G2 9JZ, UK; d.shaw{at}dental.gla.ac.uk

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Homeopathic medicine is based on the two principles that ‘like cures like’ and that the potency of substances increases in proportion to their dilution.1 In November 2009 the UK Parliament's Science and Technology Committee heard evidence on homeopathy, with several witnesses arguing that homeopathic practice is ‘unethical, unreliable and pointless’.2 Although this increasing scepticism about the merits of homeopathy is to be welcomed, the unethical effects of funding homeopathy on the NHS are even further-reaching than has been acknowledged.

There are NHS homeopathic hospitals in Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and London, and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has judged homeopathic treatments worthy of licensing.3 4 Many patients seem to believe that homeopathic treatment helps them, as sales of homeopathic remedies in the UK increased by 24% in the 5 years to 2007.5 The British Homeopathic Association encourages visitors to its website to contact their MPs and primary care trusts and the media in order to communicate that their homeopathic treatment ‘was effective, especially in comparison with conventional medicine’.6 At the committee hearing, many experts argued that there was no evidence that homeopathy is effective; unsurprisingly, expert homeopaths argued the contrary. This may be due to two different conceptions of efficacy, with the homeopaths arguing that their practice is effective inasmuch as it is as good as placebo, and the other experts adopting the higher standard (but still the lowest for evidence-based medicine) of ‘more effective than placebo’. But if patients believe that they are benefiting, and homeopathic …

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