Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 15:39 UK

New guidance for homeopathy use

Homeopathic pills
Homeopathic pills contain highly diluted substances

The regulatory body for pharmacists in NI has proposed that patients be told that homeopathic products do not work, other than having a placebo effect.

The draft guidance comes following a report on homeopathy published earlier this year by the House of Commons Science committee.

It reviewed the evidence base for homeopathy and concluded that it was "not an efficacious form of treatment."

Pharmacists are to be consulted about their views on the guidance.

Homeopathy is a 200-year-old system of treatment that uses highly diluted substances - sometimes so none of the original product is left - that are given orally in the belief that it will stimulate the body's self-healing mechanism.

There are real dangers that a patient using homeopathic products may be failing to seek appropriate diagnosis of a more serious underlying condition
Brendan Kerr
Pharmacuetical Society of NI

Supporters believe the remedies help relieve a range of minor ailments from bruising and swelling to constipation and insomnia.

But the MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said homeopathy was basically sugar pills that only worked because of faith.

The draft guidance from the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland proposes that patients buying homeopathic products be "appropriately advised that there is no scientific or clinical evidence base for the efficacy of homeopathic products, beyond a placebo effect".

It adds that signs should be positioned close to the products, recommending patients seek further advice from the pharmacist before purchase.

Commenting on the draft guidance, Brendan Kerr from the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland, said homeopathy was not a risk-free form of alternative health treatment.

An honest assessment of the facts reveals significant evidence in favour of homeopathy, both in terms of its effectiveness and its safety profile
Dr Gary Smyth
GP and homeopathic physician

"There are real dangers that a patient using homeopathic products may be failing to seek appropriate diagnosis of a more serious underlying condition," he said.

"Therefore, in our role of protecting patient safety in pharmacy, it is appropriate and necessary that formal professional guidance be issued to pharmacists on this matter."

Dr Gary Smyth, a Belfast-based GP and homeopathic physician, said many of his colleagues and patients were shocked to hear of the regulatory body's draft guidance.

"As a doctor who practices both conventional and homeopathic medicine, I am surprised and disappointed that the Pharmaceutical Society of NI have chosen to ignore the scientific research which has been done in homeopathy, which actually demonstrates a beneficial effect beyond that of placebo," he said.

"An honest assessment of the facts reveals significant evidence in favour of homeopathy, both in terms of its effectiveness and its safety profile."



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