The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld two complaints about Homeopathy UK, finding that an advert on its Liverpool Homeopathy website was not suitably substantiated.
The Good Thinking Society challenged whether the Liverpool Homeopathy website ad discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, and questioned whether some of the wording was misleading and could be substantiated.
The ASA concluded that the ad must not appear again, and the charity must ensure its future marketing communications does not refer to conditions for which advice should be sought from suitably qualified health professionals.
Homeopathy UK said changing some wording on the website in line with the ASA ruling will not affect the day-to-day operation of its charitable clinic. But it is still concerned about the implications of the ruling for the wider sector.
Areas of investigation
The investigation covered a claim on the Liverpool Homeopathy website which stated: “Homeopathy is used throughout the world to keep healthy” and that people in the UK have been using it to successfully help with a host of conditions.
The Good Thinking Society challenged the claim: “People in the UK have been using [homeopathy] to successfully help with anxiety, chronic pain … eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome … IBS” and questioned whether this was misleading and could be substantiated.
Homeopathy UK said that the Liverpool Homeopathy website did not seek to dismiss or present homeopathy as an alternative to conventional medicine or dissuade patients from seeking essential treatment for medical professionals.
It said Liverpool Homeopathy was headed by a registered general practitioner (GP), and that healthcare professionals prescribing homeopathic treatment did so within General Medical Council (GMC) guidelines.
The charity added that all Liverpool Homeopathy members were members of UK registered bodies and acted within the limits of their level of training and qualification – referring patients back to their GP if they felt conventional treatment was more appropriate.
Homeopathy UK said there was a substantial body of evidence that showed the effectiveness of homeopathy in treating the conditions listed in the ad, and provided three studies.
Studies provided did not meet the standard of evidence required
When the ASA reviewed the evidence provided by Homeopathy UK, it concluded that the studies provided did not meet the standard of evidence required for the types of claims being made, both in terms of adequacy and relevance.
The ASA noted that the practice was run by a GMC-registered GP, who it considered was a suitably qualified health professional.
However, it states the individual homeopaths were not registered and did not hold the same qualifications. Therefore, Homeopathy UK had not shown that all treatment and diagnosis conducted at the practice would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional.
The ad now must not appear again in the form complained about, and the charity also must ensure its future marketing communications does not refer to conditions for which advice should be sought from suitably qualified health professionals.
The ASA also told Homeopathy UK to ensure they did not make claims for homeopathy unless they were supported with robust evidence.
Good Thinking Society
This is not the first time that the Good Thinking Society has complained about charities offering complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) therapies.
In 2016 it threatened to take the Charity Commission to judicial review over its approach to homeopathy, prompting the Commission to consult and update its approach.
The charity regulator said that a CAM therapy must show medical evidence if it claims to treat or cure a disease, but those therapies which claim to provide comfort or wellbeing to patients may not necessarily require medical trials.
Commenting on the ASA outcome, Michael Marshall, project director at Good Thinking Society, said: “Homeopaths routinely mislead the public as to the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies. At best this wastes the customer’s time and money; but at worst it risks delaying seeking effective medical treatment.
“Homeopathy UK claimed their sugar pills could successfully treat asthma - it shouldn’t take living through a respiratory pandemic to recognise how dangerous a claim that could be.
“This once again calls into question whether it is appropriate to register as a charity a body which promotes ineffective medicine via misleading claims.”
Homeopathy UK: 'The ASA ruling will not affect the day-to-day operation of our charitable clinic'
The charity said it was disappointed the complaint came from an organisation “with a clear anti-homeopathy agenda”.
Cristal Skaling-Klopstock, chief executive at Homeopathy UK, said: “We were disappointed to note that this complaint comes, not from a member of the public, but from an organisation with a clear anti-homeopathy agenda. Fortunately, changing a few lines on the website in line with the ASA ruling will not affect the day-to-day operation of our charitable clinic which remains busy and highly valued by its patients.
“However, as a charity committed to patient choice, we are concerned about what a ruling like this could mean for the complementary and alternative health sector. Not only does it challenge a practitioner’s right to promote what they do, it suggests that people considering such treatments are unable to make informed choices about their health.”