- Jeremy Hunt accused of being a 'snake-oil salesman' over homeopathy review
- Health Secretary asked to look at three studies funded by homeopathy industry
- British Medical Association has derided homeopathy as 'witchcraft'
Jeremy Hunt was accused of being a ‘snake-oil salesman’ last night after it emerged he asked the Chief Medical Officer to review the medical effectiveness of homeopathy.
The Health Secretary asked Dame Sally Davies to look at three studies, funded by the homeopathy industry, which found the controversial therapy could help fight disease.
The British Medical Association has derided homeopathy as ‘witchcraft’, and most scientists dismiss it as a placebo.
Jeremy Hunt, pictured, has been accused of being a 'snake-oil salesman' after it emerged he asked for a review into the medical effectiveness of homeopathy
Emails show Mr Hunt asked Dame Sally to report on the studies, which were funded by French firm Boiron, the world’s largest manufacturer of homeopathic products.
Mr Hunt has in the past spoken favourably about homeopathy, in which massively diluted ingredients are supposed to cure serious illnesses.
But last night a source close to him denied he believed in the practice.
‘Jeremy is not a supporter of homeopathy and is not persuaded that there is any scientific evidence that it works,’ he said.
Dame Sally said none of them were robust enough to provide strong evidence that homeopathy is effective.
Labour said Mr Hunt should not have wasted NHS time and money on the issue.
Jamie Reed, the party’s health spokesman, said: ‘Put a snake-oil salesman in charge of the NHS and this is the inevitable result.’
‘As staff shortages affect patient care, A&E units continue to miss their targets and people struggle to see their GP, patients and medical professionals will be dismayed but not surprised to learn that one of Jeremy Hunt’s first acts as Health Secretary was to waste time and money on investigating studies into homeopathy.
‘The government’s own NHS Choices website states that the evidence for homeopathy is ‘scientifically implausible’ but this doesn’t appear to be enough for the error-prone Health Secretary.
'As his policies continue to damage the NHS, I hope he hasn’t ordered an investigation into the use of leeches.’
Jamie Reed, pictured, Labour's health spokesman, accused Jeremy Hunt of being a 'snake-oil salesman'
Homeopathy claims to treat and prevent disease by using greatly diluted forms of herbs and minerals.
It is based on the principle that ‘like cures like’ - that an illness can be treated by substances that produce similar symptoms.
For example, homeopaths claim that onions, which make eyes itchy and tearful, can be used to relieve the symptoms of hay fever.
But both the British Medical Association and the Commons science and technology committee say the NHS should stop funding homeopathic treatments because of a lack of evidence they work.
The BMA has described homeopathy as ‘witchcraft’, and last summer the Advertising Standards Authority said homeopaths were putting people’s lives at risk by discouraging them from seeking medical treatment.
Last month an Australian study concluded that homeopathy was no more effective than placebo.
In a 2007 letter to a constituent, Mr Hunt said ‘homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people’ and should continue to be available on England’s health service.
Both the British Medical Association and the Commons science and technology committee say the NHS should stop funding homeopathic treatments because of a lack of evidence they work
In the same year, he signed a Commons motion welcoming the ‘positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals’.
And last year he held a private meeting with Prince Charles, who urged him to ensure alternative medicines will be available on the NHS.
Emails obtained by the BuzzFeed website show that in December, Mr Hunt asked Dame Sally to review three studies on the medical benefits of homeopathy.
In an email to a third party, the Health Secretary’s office argued it was ‘important we do not discount different methods of treatment if they prove to be effective’ and said it would continue to pass on other studies regarding the medical benefits of homeopathy to the chief medical officer.
The Chief Medical Officer reviewed the three studies forwarded by Hunt and concluded there were fundamental problems with their scientific method.
According to emails, Dame Sally found that it was ‘difficult to draw useful conclusions’ from two of the trials, though Mr Hunt’s office noted that the analysis had found they were ‘well-designed, with robust results’.
The chief medical officer also said the third trial, into the homeopathic treatment of patients with musculoskeletal disorders, had problems because it was not scientifically randomised and had a ‘relatively low response rate’.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the department does not maintain an official position on homeopathy, and that decisions about use of alternative treatments should be made at a local level.
‘It is the responsibility of local NHS organisations to make decisions on the commissioning and funding of any healthcare treatments for NHS patients, such as homeopathy,’ the spokesman said.