Merseyside Skeptics Society petition Alliance Boots to stop selling homeopathy

manicstreetpreacher urges you to put your name to a petition to stop one of the UK’s top pharmacies from selling snake oil for the 21st century.

I had previously reported on a superb lecture given by Professor Chris French of the Anomalistic Psychological Research Unit at Goldsmiths College, University of London on paranormal experiences hosted The Merseyside Skeptics Society (MSS) in September 2009.  Now Marsh and the boys score another hit against pseudo-scientific nonsense with an open letter and online petition to Alliance Boots asking them to stop selling homeopathic remedies.  The letter was also posted on RichardDawkins.net in November when it was first released, and the comments (including one from yours truly) were overwhelmingly positive.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

An Open Letter to Alliance Boots

The Boots brand is synonymous with health care in the United Kingdom.  Your website speaks proudly about your role as a health care provider and your commitment to deliver exceptional patient care.  For many people, you are their first resource for medical advice; and their chosen dispensary for prescription and non-prescription medicines.  The British public trusts Boots.

However, in evidence given recently to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, you admitted that you do not believe homeopathy to be efficacious.  Despite this, homeopathic products are offered for sale in Boots pharmacies – many of them bearing the trusted Boots brand.

Not only is this two-hundred-year-old pseudo-therapy implausible, it is scientifically absurd.  The purported mechanisms of action fly in the face of our understanding of chemistry, physics, pharmacology and physiology.  As you are aware, the best and most rigorous scientific research concludes that homeopathy offers no therapeutic effect beyond placebo, but you continue to sell these products regardless because “customers believe they work”.  Is this the standard you set for yourselves?

The majority of people do not have the time or inclination to check whether the scientific literature supports the claims of efficacy made by products such as homeopathy.  We trust brands such as Boots to check the facts for us, to provide sound medical advice that is in our interest and supply only those products with a demonstrable medical benefit.

We don’t expect to find products on the shelf at our local pharmacy which do not work.

Not only are these products ineffective, they can also be dangerous.  Patients may delay seeking proper medical assistance because they believe homeopathy can treat their condition.  Until recently, the Boots website even went so far as to tell patients that “after taking a homeopathic medicine your symptoms may become slightly worse,” and that this is “a sign that the body’s natural energies have started to counteract the illness”. Advice such as this directly encourages patients to wait before seeking real medical attention, even when their condition deteriorates.

We call upon Boots to withdraw all homeopathic products from your shelves.  You should not be involved in the sale of ineffective products, because your customers trust you to do what is right for their health.  Surely you agree that your commitment to excellent patient care is better served by supplying only those products whose claims can be substantiated by rigorous scientific research?  Or do you really believe that Boots should be in the business of selling placebos to the sick and the injured?

The support lent by Boots to this quack therapy contributes directly to its acceptance as a valid medical treatment by the British public, acceptance it does not warrant and support it does not deserve.  Please do the right thing, and remove this bogus therapy from your shelves.

Yours sincerely

The Merseyside Skeptics Society

The startling admission by Boots to the Commons Science and Technology Committee to which MSS’ letter refers came in November 2009 when Paul Bennett, professional standards director for Boots, told a committee of MPs that the pharmacy chain stocks homeopathy purely because it sells, not because it works:

“There is certainly a consumer demand for these products,” he said.  “I have no evidence to suggest they are efficacious.

“It is about consumer choice for us and a large number of our customers believe they are efficacious.”

His comments recall Gerald Ratner‘s infamous admission in 1991 that one of the gifts sold by his chain of jewellers was “total crap”.

I have given my thoughts on homeopathy elsewhere on this blog, so I won’t repeat my arguments here.  But for an executive summary, anyone who has given a second thought that there may be something in it, should scroll down to the Mitchell and Webb clip and see what the outcome would be if someone suffering from accident trauma was treated with “alternative remedies”.

Suffice it to say, I urge readers to sign the petition and help rid our shelves of this bogus “treatment”.

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3 Responses to “Merseyside Skeptics Society petition Alliance Boots to stop selling homeopathy”

  1. Oliver Lea Says:

    I suspect this will all come down to whether trading standards are being breached. As long as Chinese Medicine stores are allowed to remain open, I suspect Boots will have a case. The society we live in thrives on fun novelties like crystals and suchlike, I don’t suppose many people rely on them seriously. And those people who do will simply go somewhere else to get them if Boots follow the skeptics advice.

    As with everything, Boots are a company trying to make money, not a medical agency proper. (True, they are a pharmacist, but as long as they give advice in line with medical guidelines then they’re clear.)

    If homeopathic treatments become available on the NHS, THEN let’s kick up a fuss…

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      If homeopathic treatments become available on the NHS, THEN let’s kick up a fuss…

      Erm, Oli…

      It is an absolute scandal that NHS money is being spent supporting homeopathic medicines at the same time as certain cancer drugs, proven to extend the lives of cancer sufferers, are being denied to patients on the grounds of cost. When will this madness end?

      Now are you going to kick up a fuss?

      MSP

  2. Oliver Lea Says:

    Must’ve missed that bit. Yes perhaps I will kick up a fuss. But in the words of Prince George, “What are they going to do about my sock?”

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