Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 27 November 2009

Why do Boots stock homeopathic "remedies"?

It has long been a source of confusion to me that Boots stock homeopathic "remedies". There is no evidence that homeopathy has any effect beyond placebo and it has been tested many, many times.

On the always excellent Pod Delusion podcast this week (declaration of interest, I sometimes contribute to it myself) Andy Wilson of the Merseyside Skeptics Society read out in full an open letter that the society has drafted directed to Alliance Boots. The letter makes a strong argument for why in their view Boots really should not be stocking homeopathic products.

I have reproduced the letter in full here but their site is well worth a visit for the blog and podcast sections.

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


marksany said...

I suppose Boots sell it because their customers demand it.

Martin said...

Nothing wrong with making a quick buck out of the feckless....

Jonathan Sheppard said...

The same reason they may sell Slim fast, or books for the Atkins diet. I am sure their nutritionists would advocate a balance diet . They may not advocate buying products like Adios, but that does not mean they should not be sold.

Having worked for Boots I would suggest that the trust you place in them is selling you a product that certainly should not harm you - something which cannot be said when people buy from products on dodgy internet sites.

Niklas said...

Re. Jonathan Sheppard: Having worked for Boots I would suggest that the trust you place in them is selling you a product that certainly should not harm you...

Certainly homeopathic pills and potions are harmless in themselves - because they are quite literally sugar pills or water! You would be very lucky to find one molecule of the "active ingredient" in your pill. (See Singh and Ernst, Trick or Treatment for some amusing maths.)

The problem is that people who take this stuff thinking it is effective may worsen their condition by not taking effective medicines instead (antibiotics, Tamiflu or whatever is appropriate). People have died because they took homeopathic "remedies" thinking that they worked.

Jonathan Sheppard said...

People have also died taking over the counter and prescription medicine too.

Health advice to take an aspirin a day.. then advice not too. Not an exact science.

I personally wouldn't take hemeopathic medicine. I also wouldnt pop pills every time I get a headache as I am not a particular beleiver in taking such things as it could mask an underlying issue - but it doesn't stop people doing so.