Posted by: Steve Leedale | September 18, 2010

The ASA responds to complaint about British Homeopathic Association

After watching many more active skeptics with admiration I decided that I would like to have a go at debunking some bunkum myself. In order to find source material I sought out some literature directly from the British Homeopathic Association and set about picking through it to find the clever and subtle ways in which they would sell homeopathy to the public and see if I was smart enough to find any problems with their sales techniques.

It turns out I greatly overestimated them and so I blogged about it.

Not satisfied with my seldom read blog piece in August this year, after months of procrastination, I finally got up off my lazy, lazy skeptic arse and decided to have a go at putting the active into skeptic activism. I submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.

I have recently received a response from the ASA and it seems that they agree with me that the leaflet contains material that is likely to be problematic.

Extract from their letter:

ASA response to British Homeopathic Association complaint


I am hoping that “likely to be probelmatic” is a polite way of saying for, “well done, you’ve caught them at it!” but let’s see. Alas, the Compliance team do not report back directly to the complainant, so to see what effect my complaint had on the BHA why not request your own information pack. Even if the changes haven’t come into effect yet (which is, of course, highly unlikely at this stage) you will have the satisfaction of costing the BHA £2 in printing and postage.

Be sure to recycle though as I wouldn’t want all that waste on my conscience!


  1. *high five* for skeptical activism!

    I must look out to see if the Irish Homeopathic thingy sent out information packages!

    • Cheers Sinead. It’s very satisfying thinking that the BHA might have to change their literature because of me.
      You should definitely check out the Irish situation. After all, how can they really justify peddling sugar and water as medicine?

  2. I was very shocked it was legal to advertise it as any sort of medicine when I first heard about it. Very few people seem to actually understand what homoeopathic means.

    • It helped having proponents of homeopathy in the government when the NHS and particular pieces of legislation came in.

  3. This is a still a good win. The ASA does this when the claims clearly break their code, so there is no point in them wasting their time investigating. Great work.

    • Thank you; that means a lot.

  4. ASA will soon be considering claims made on websites. Many homeopaths have been making unsupportable claims of clinical efficacy on their websites, secure in the knowledge tat these are outside the scope of any regulator. The day the rules change, I would encourage every member of the “bad science posse” to pick one homeopath’s website per week and send a complaint.

    • Oh no
      I think it should be more like Simon Perry’s Boots complaint.
      All very quickly arranged and sent off. One per week is far too slow 😛

  5. I think you have done a great thing here. I do wonder if the Compliance team have a timeline for their efforts. It would be interesting to see how quickly this is done.

    I would also be keen to see the results of any change to the British Homeopathic Association’s literature and I do hope that you do a follow-up on your successes…..

  6. According to a BMJ (British Medical Journal)survey over 50% of treatments provided by the NHS have little or no effect. Also, £4-billion is spent each year by the NHS treating patients who have had adverse reactions to prescribed medication. (The amount spent on homeopathy by the NHS is £4-million a year.)

    What I’d like to know is, when will the supporters of the big pharmaceutical companies who regularly post on this site start campaigning against these “ineffective” forms of treatment.

    • Oh dear. That old canard.

      That reason the 50% figure is so low is because the study included all sorts of AltMed as well as proper treatments – it was the AltMed failures that dragged the number down!

      Besides, so what? How does that affect the uselessness of homeopathy?

      And what campaigning are you doing to improve the situation regarding proper medicines?

    • Via @ScepticLetters (who is having trouble adding a comment to this post):

      Hi Johnpr!

      Have you taken a moment to actually read the BMJ article to which you’re referring? No…?

      Well, I have! The conclusion “over 50% of treatments provided by the NHS have little or no effect” doesn’t appear anywhere in it. In fact, I’d describe your quote as misleading.

      The actual number of treatments which are supported by clinical evidence are 80-90%. As Zeno points out, the number is artificially low because it includes a number of therapies which we know don’t work at all, like, errr, homeopathy.

      Don’t believe me? Here’s a summary of the actual evidence.

      “One often-voiced argument against evidence-based medicine is that clinical practice is, in fact, not evidence-based. The origins of this argument lead us to a BMJ editorial of 13 years ago [16], referring to a remark made by David Eddy, at a conference in Manchester, that only 15% of medical practice was based on any evidence at all.

      “The most conclusive answer comes from a UK survey by Gill et al who retrospectively reviewed 122 consecutive general practice consultations. They found that 81% of the prescribed treatments were based on evidence and 30% were based on…RCTs. A similar study conducted in a UK university hospital outpatient department of general medicine arrived at comparable figures; 82% of the interventions were based on evidence, 53% on RCTs. Other relevant data originate from abroad. In Sweden, 84% of internal medicine interventions were based on evidence and 50% on RCTs. In Spain these percentages were 55 and 38% respectively. Imrie and Ramey pooled a total of 15 studies across all medical disciplines, and found that, on average, 76% of medical treatments are supported by some form of compelling evidence, the lowest was that mentioned above (55%), and the highest (97%) was achieved in anaesthesia in Britain. Collectively these data suggest that, in terms of evidence-base, general practice is much better than its reputation.”

      Edzard Ernst,


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