NHMRC releases ‘hidden’ homeopathy review as minister rethinks rebate ban

By Michael Woodhead

27 Aug 2019

The NHMRC has released a much-disputed first draft of a review of homeopathy effectiveness that has been kept under wraps since 2012.

The unfinished report was conducted by an expert review committee from the University of South Australia under contract to the NHMRC but was not published, being superseded by a second 2015 review that concluded that “…there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective”.

However the so-called ‘second’ report was strongly disputed by advocates of homeopathy and companies marketing alternative therapies, who claimed that the ‘first report’ had been suppressed because it had more positive conclusions about the evidence for homeopathy efficacy.

Homeopathy advocates mounted a long running campaign to have the first report released, saying it would vindicate their claims that there was some evidence of efficacy for homeopathy.

The executive summary of ‘first report’ concluded that the overall strength of evidence for homeopathy was “poor to moderate” but there was ‘encouraging evidence’ (‘Grade C’) for homeopathy in fibromylagia, otitis media, post-operative ileus, upper respiratory tract infections in adults and side effects of cancer treatment.

In a letter released on 20 August, the CEO of the NHMRC  Professor Anne Kelso said she was releasing the draft ‘first report’ in its entirety to set the record straight.

“I am … aware and concerned that a significant amount of misinformation has built up about the content of this 2012 draft report. I am releasing the report now in an annotated form to address this misinformation,” she wrote.

The unfinished report includes annotated comments and critiques by reviewers of the first draft, to give context and clear up misunderstandings, she said.

Professor Kelso stressed that the unfinished report was not endorsed by the NHMRC or the Homeopathy Working Committee that was chaired by rheumatologist Professor Peter Brooks.

[The] NHMRC’s usual practices of quality assurance were not applied to this document. These practices (which include methodological review, expert review, public consultation and approval from the expert committee and NHMRC’s Council) can often result in significant changes to initial drafts,” she wrote.

The subsequent 2015 NHMRC report was followed by a government decision to withdraw private health subsidies for homeopathy and several other alternative remedies that lacked any evidence for efficacy.

The move was strongly criticised by leaders of the $5 billion complementary industry such as Charles Blackmore, who said the homeopathy review was flawed.

Federal minister for health Greg Hunt has since announced that the ban – which came into effect in April 2019 –  will be reviewed again by the Chief Medical Officer.

“The Government has listened to the views of the sector that there is additional evidence for certain natural therapies since 2014–15 and this updated review will enable formal consideration of this,” he said.

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