Friday, December 4, 2009

Merseyside Skeptics Society Stick the Boots in.

10:23pm on a Friday night - this is my rock and roll life. Due to moving house, I've had a month off blogging. Luckily nothing in the areas that I tend to blog about has happened in the last month.

Oh, apart from the UK Parliament having an evidence check session on homeopathy which is brilliantly on YouTube, so you can watch some governmental weaselling and squirming at your convenience. Lots of good blogs have been covering this such as Ben Goldacre's Bad Science, Lay Science and The Quackometer.

All this, and I missed it.....

The upshot of the session was a glut of anti-homeopathy pieces in the press, such as The Sun's Homeopathy is a Resources Drain. (Sadly, there are still plenty of people who think sugar pills may cure AIDS).

One of biggest gaffes from the session was by Paul Bennett, Chief Pharmacist of Boots who, despite selling homeopathic products in a manner contrary to MHRA regulations said he had seen no evidence for their efficacy, but sold them because "large numbers of [Boot's] customers thought they worked". This is nothing new in reality, the Quackometer blogged about this in 2006 and the Guardian ran a story on Boots & homeopathy in May 2008.

The Merseyside Skeptical Society wrote an open letter to Boots, reprinted below, outlining the ridiculous position Boots are placing themselves in. (MSS kindly discussed the Thinking is Dangerous blogpost on Boots removing homeopathic sulphur 30c in Episode 8 on their excellent "Skeptics with a K" podcast.)

Well said, MSS.

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.

Yours sincerely,
Merseyside Skeptics Society


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