British Advertising Standards Authority
Adjudication on the Society of Homeopaths

Society of Homeopaths
11 Brookfield
Duncan Close
Moulton Park
Northampton
NN3 6WL

Date: 3 July 2013
Media: Internal (social netwrking)
Sector: Health and Beauty
Number of complaints: 1
Complaint Ref: A11-157043

Background

Following the online remit extension in 2011 the ASA received a large number of complaints about claims relating to homeopathy that appeared on a number of websites. The ASA therefore made the decision to conduct an investigation to determine the acceptability of the type of claims being made for homeopathy. We understood that, as an industry body, the Society of Homeopaths had access to the relevant evidence, and we therefore considered the case was suitable to establish our lead position on claims for homeopathy.

Summary of Council decision:

Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.

Ad

a. The Society of Homeopaths' Twitter page included the tweet "Antidepressant prescriptions up by 43%. For more holistic healthcare which doesn't rely on drugs try homeopathy [weblink]." The web link was to the Society of Homeopaths' home page.

b. The website for the Society of Homeopaths, www.homeopathy-soh.org, included a web page headed "What can homeopathy help?". Text stated "Homeopaths often see patients with long-term, chronic problems, many of which have failed to respond to conventional medicine. As a system of medicine, homeopathy is aimed at treating the person, rather than the disease diagnosis, and as such can be considered in almost any ill health, where tissue has not been irrevocably damaged. Most people visit a homeopath with a diagnosis from their doctor, and patients are encouraged to keep their medical practitioners informed as treatment progresses. Some people see a homeopath because they have side effects from conventional drugs, and others because conventional tests have failed to find the cause of their problem".

Under the subheading "Research" further text stated "There is a growing body of research evidence suggesting that treatment by a homeopath is clinically effective, cost effective and safe. People often ask about which specific conditions can be treated by homeopaths, and as a profession we would like to see more research trials addressing this question, but funding is difficult to come by. Currently, there is sufficient research evidence to support the use of homeopathic treatment for the following medical conditions: Allergies and upper respiratory tract infections, Ankle sprain, Bronchitis, Childhood diarrhoea, Chronic fatigue, Ear infections, Fibromyalgia, Hay fever, Influenza, Osteoarthritis, Premenstrual syndrome, Rheumatic diseases, Sinusitis, Vertigo ... See our research pages for more details ... Your local homeopath would be happy to discuss any health problems with you and offer advice about whether they might be able to help"

Issue

The ASA challenged whether:

1. ad (a) could discourage essential treatment for depression, a medical condition for which medical supervision should be sought, and misleadingly implied that homeopathic remedies could alleviate symptoms of depression;

2. ad (b) could discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought; and

3. the claims in ad (b) that homeopathy could treat the following medical conditions were misleading and could be substantiated:

a. Allergies and upper respiratory tract infections;
b. Ankle sprain;
c. Bronchitis;
d. Childhood diarrhoea;
e. Chronic fatigue;
f. Ear infections;
g. Fibromyalgia;
h. Hay fever;
i. Influenza;
j. Osteoarthritis;
k. Premenstrual syndrome;
l. Rheumatic diseases;
m. Sinusitis;
n. Vertigo.

CAP Code (Edition 12)
12.112.23.13.7

Response

1. The Society of Homeopaths did not believe the claim in ad (a) was misleading or irresponsible. They said the tweet was related to a news story that appeared in a national newspaper and reported that prescriptions of anti-depressants had increased by 43% using figures provided by the NHS Prescription Services. The sentence "Antidepressant prescriptions up by 43%" was a direct quote from the article. They believed the sentence "For more holistic healthcare which doesn't rely on drugs try homeopathy" complied with the Code because it merely described homeopathy as a more holistic form of healthcare. They pointed out the ad made no reference to diagnosing depression and believed that it therefore did not imply this in any way. They said their members did not make medical diagnoses as this was beyond their professional remit. They agreed the ad implied that homeopaths were able to treat patients who came to them with a diagnosis of depression and that homeopathic remedies could, when prescribed by qualified homeopaths, treat depression. They said they implied this deliberately as they believed the claim was capable of substantiation. They said that a study (which they provided) had shown that individualised homeopathic prescribing had been shown to be non-inferior to the most commonly prescribed anti-depressant medicine.

2. The Society of Homeopaths did not believe there was anything on the web page in question, or their website as a whole, which discouraged patients from seeking medical treatment. They said they were committed to promoting integrated healthcare, and that this was made clear on their home page, which stated "Homeopathy can be used alongside conventional medicine when necessary to give an integrated approach to your healthcare". They also referred to another web page headed "What happens when I see a homeopath" which stated that they recommended maintaining your relationship with your GP or specialist and that although homeopathy could reduce or remove the need for conventional drugs, you should continue with any treatment already prescribed and only change this after discussion with your prescribing doctor and homeopath. It also stated "If at any stage of your treatment you are concerned about changes in your symptoms, you should contact your homeopath and/or medical practitioner immediately".

3. The Society of Homeopaths said that since the ad was initially seen, the wording "Currently, there is sufficient research evidence to support the use of homeopathic treatment for the following medical conditions" had been amended to "To date, conditions for which the majority of clinical trial findings have been positive include. . . " They therefore believed it would only be relevant to substantiate the newly worded claim. They supplied 21 studies to support the claims in relation to the listed conditions. They did not believe the ad implied that the evidence was unequivocal or was the accepted view of the entire medical or scientific community.

Assessment

1. The Society of Homeopaths did not believe the claim in ad (a) was misleading or irresponsible. They said the tweet was related to a news story that appeared in a national newspaper and reported that prescriptions of anti-depressants had increased by 43% using figures provided by the NHS Prescription Services. The sentence "Antidepressant prescriptions up by 43%" was a direct quote from the article. They believed the sentence "For more holistic healthcare which doesn't rely on drugs try homeopathy" complied with the Code because it merely described homeopathy as a more holistic form of healthcare. They pointed out the ad made no reference to diagnosing depression and believed that it therefore did not imply this in any way. They said their members did not make medical diagnoses as this was beyond their professional remit. They agreed the ad implied that homeopaths were able to treat patients who came to them with a diagnosis of depression and that homeopathic remedies could, when prescribed by qualified homeopaths, treat depression. They said they implied this deliberately as they believed the claim was capable of substantiation. They said that a study (which they provided) had shown that individualised homeopathic prescribing had been shown to be non-inferior to the most commonly prescribed anti-depressant medicine.

2. The Society of Homeopaths did not believe there was anything on the web page in question, or their website as a whole, which discouraged patients from seeking medical treatment. They said they were committed to promoting integrated healthcare, and that this was made clear on their home page, which stated "Homeopathy can be used alongside conventional medicine when necessary to give an integrated approach to your healthcare". They also referred to another web page headed "What happens when I see a homeopath" which stated that they recommended maintaining your relationship with your GP or specialist and that although homeopathy could reduce or remove the need for conventional drugs, you should continue with any treatment already prescribed and only change this after discussion with your prescribing doctor and homeopath. It also stated "If at any stage of your treatment you are concerned about changes in your symptoms, you should contact your homeopath and/or medical practitioner immediately".

3. The Society of Homeopaths said that since the ad was initially seen, the wording "Currently, there is sufficient research evidence to support the use of homeopathic treatment for the following medical conditions" had been amended to "To date, conditions for which the majority of clinical trial findings have been positive include …". They therefore believed it would only be relevant to substantiate the newly worded claim. They supplied 21 studies to support the claims in relation to the listed conditions. They did not believe the ad implied that the evidence was unequivocal or was the accepted view of the entire medical or scientific community.

Action

Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in their current form. We told the Society of Homeopaths not to discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, including offering specific advice on or treatment for such conditions. We also told them not to make health claims for homeopathy unless they held sufficiently robust evidence of efficacy.

This article was posted on July 3, 2013

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