In a ruling published on its website on Wednesday (May 19), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that an advert and subsequent linked articles on the Homeopathy UK – a UK registered charity – website had breached advertising codes, by claiming that homeopathy can help with certain conditions.
“Marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment was conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional,” the ASA said in its ruling.
The advert listed under the website’s “Conditions Directory” referred to “depression”, “diabetes”, “infertility”, “psoriasis” and “asthma”, for which medical supervision should be sought, it said.
While it “acknowledged that the articles had been written by GMC-registered doctors, who we considered would be suitably qualified to offer advice, diagnosis or treatment”, Homeopathy UK “would not be able to demonstrate that all such treatment would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional”, the ASA explained.
It was also concerned that the advert and subsequent articles “could discourage consumers from seeking essential treatment under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional”.
However, Homeopathy UK told the ASA that it “sought to share information about homeopathy for the benefit of others, rather than for commercial gain, and that they would always recommend that patients seeking homeopathic care did so under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner”.
The ASA said the advert must be removed and was not to appear again “in the form complained about”. It also told Homeopathy UK to ensure future marketing communications do not refer to such conditions.
Homeopathy UK told C+D today (May 21) that the articles in question had been written by GPs, but added that pharmacists have also contributed content to the charity’s website.
Cristal Skaling-Klopstock, chief executive of Homeopathy UK, said: “We are very disappointed by the ASA’s decision.
“As a charity committed to patient choice, we are concerned about the damaging effect a ruling like this could have on the entire complementary and alternative health sector. Not only does it challenge a medical practitioner’s right to share their clinical experience, it also suggests that people considering an integrated approach to health are incapable of making informed choices – something we know to be far from the truth.”
RPS and GPhC positions
In a statement on its website, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) stresses that it “does not endorse homeopathy as a form of treatment because there is no scientific basis for homeopathy nor any evidence to support the clinical efficacy of homeopathic products beyond a placebo effect”.
It advised that pharmacists “ensure, wherever possible, that patients do not stop taking their prescribed conventional medication, if they are taking or are considering taking a homeopathic product”.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) does not have a regulatory stance on complementary medicines, but referred C+D to its standards for pharmacy professionals, which outlines that pharmacy professionals must “give [patients] all relevant information in a way they can understand, so they can make informed decisions and choices”.
Its guidance on personal values and beliefs also stresses that pharmacy professionals must “recognise their own values and beliefs, but not impose them on other people”, including on what products to sell.