A website for Homeopathy UK, www.homeopathy-uk.org, seen on 28 September 2020 featured a page titled “Conditions Directory” with text that stated “Please find below a list of conditions where homeopathy can help …” followed by a list of medical conditions that included depression, diabetes, infertility, psoriasis and asthma. When consumers clicked-through the links to the conditions listed on that page, they were taken to separate pages for each that contained anecdotal descriptions from doctors detailing how they had applied homeopathic methods to the relevant conditions.
The complainant challenged whether the ad discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, namely depression, diabetes, infertility, psoriasis and asthma.
Homeopathy UK said that as a registered charity they 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. They highlighted that their website stated “Homeopathy doesn’t interfere with conventional medicine and should be seen as a complementary treatment, not as an alternative” and said that it did not seek to dismiss conventional medicine or dissuade patients from seeking essential treatment from a medical professional. They said the articles that were under investigation were intended to be informative and helpful to the public and had been written by General Practitioners, General Medical Council (GMC) registered doctors and other statutorily regulated health professionals who integrated homeopathy into their practice where they deemed it appropriate to do so.
The CAP Code required that 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 ad referred to “depression”, “diabetes”, “infertility”, “psoriasis” and “asthma”, which we considered were conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. Any advice, diagnosis or treatment, therefore, must be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. We acknowledged that the articles had been written by GMC-registered doctors, who we considered would be suitably qualified to offer advice, diagnosis or treatment. However, we noted that the ad and the articles to which it linked referred to homeopathy in general, rather than treatment by a specific individual. We understood that there were no minimum professional qualifications required to practice homeopathy, which could result in consumers being advised, diagnosed, or treated for the conditions listed in the ad by a practitioner with no medical qualification. We therefore considered Homeopathy UK would not be able to demonstrate that all such treatment would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional.
Furthermore, we understood that, although elsewhere on the website there were links to specific clinics, not all treatment would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional across those clinics. Because Homeopathy UK had not supplied evidence that treatment would always be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional. Also, because reference to the conditions listed in the ad, and discussed in the related articles, could discourage consumers from seeking essential treatment under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional, we concluded that the ad had breached the Code.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
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 of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. Accurate and responsible general information about such conditions may, however, be offered (see rule 12.11).
Health professionals will be deemed suitably qualified only if they can provide suitable credentials, for example, evidence of: relevant professional expertise or qualifications; systems for regular review of members' skills and competencies and suitable professional indemnity insurance covering all services provided; accreditation by a professional or regulatory body that has systems for dealing with complaints and taking disciplinary action and has registration based on minimum standards for training and qualifications. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Homeopathy UK to ensure their future marketing communications did not to refer to conditions for which advice should be sought from suitably qualified health professionals.