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In March 2015, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) published an Information Paper on homeopathy, commonly referred to as ‘The Australian Report’.1
This document concluded that “…there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective”.
The report triggered headlines around the world suggesting NHMRC had found that homeopathy does not work for any condition.3
However, on 26 August 2019 NHMRC CEO Prof Anne Kelso provided the following clarification on the findings of the 2015 Homeopathy Review:
“Contrary to some claims, the review did not conclude that homeopathy was ineffective.”
An extensive investigation by the Australian Homeopathic Association (AHA) into NHMRC’s conduct, combined with an in-depth scientific analysis of the review by HRI, revealed evidence of serious procedural and scientific misconduct, including the fact that the published report was NHMRC’s second attempt – a first report written in 2012 was never disclosed to the public.
Missing first report finally released
After an ongoing campaign by stakeholders and the general public, in August 2019 NHMRC finally released the draft 2012 report in which the author concluded that there is “encouraging evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy” in five medical conditions.
Australian Report key facts
In August 2016 HRI’s in-depth scientific analysis was used as part of a submission of complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman brought by Complementary Medicines Australia, Australian Homoeopathic Association and Australian Traditional Medicine Society.
An initial assessment found the complaint to be of sufficient merit to warrant a full investigation into NHMRC’s conduct. Over the intervening months, this process has involved ongoing input from both parties as NHMRC answers charges of bias, conflict of interest and scientific misconduct.
Download the Executive Summary of the Ombudsman submission here.
Rachel Roberts, HRI Chief Executive says, “NHMRC’s review is a shocking example of misreporting. Decision-makers and the scientific community rely on these kinds of reports and need to trust their accuracy. This is not about anyone’s personal opinion as to whether homeopathy works or not. It is about the importance of evidence being reported objectively, whatever it says, and NHMRC did not do that.”
As the complaint is ongoing, our full analysis – some 60 pages – cannot be shared as yet, but HRI’s data provided details demonstrating the following scientific failures by NHMRC which necessitate retraction of the Australian Report:
The complainants are now waiting to hear back from the Ombudsman regarding their submission. As NHMRC’s inaccurate Homeopathy Review has had a significant impact on the field of homeopathy research worldwide, HRI will share any news regarding the complaint as the case progresses.
Roberts says: “The public has a right to know that there are high quality studies showing homeopathy works for some medical conditions, such as hay fever, sinusitis and diarrhoea in children – information that was lost only due to NHMRC’s mishandling of the evidence. If the evidence on conventional medicine was treated this way there would be an outcry – and rightly so. NHMRC’s job was to accurately summarise the body of evidence for homeopathy for the public, a task in which they categorically failed.”
The missing first report
NHMRC’s investigation into Homeopathy ran from 2010 to 2015. NHMRC initially worked with an external contractor at the University of South Australia (UniSA) – from April 2012-August 2012 – to produce a review of the evidence on Homeopathy to inform the Australian public.
The report produced was called The Effectiveness of Homeopathy: An overview review of secondary evidence.
This review, paid for by Australian tax payers, was never made public and NHMRC refused to release it for over three years, despite repeated Freedom of Information requests.
After terminating the contract with the first review team, a second external contractor – OptumInsight – was hired to do the Homeopathy review again from December 2012-March 2015.
HRI is not alone in criticising the accuracy of NHMRC’s findings
FOI requests have brought to light that two independent experts also raised concerns over the conclusions of the 2015 report during peer review, prior to final publication. The Australasian Cochrane Centre commented that for some conditions, “…. ‘no reliable evidence’ does not seem an accurate reflection of the body of evidence”; a second expert felt “uncertain of the definitive nature of the Report’s conclusions”. NHMRC chose not to act on this feedback and did not amend their conclusions.
The real story behind the headlines
Contrary to NHMRC’s findings, there are ‘good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result‘ (to use NHMRC’s description of a reliable study) which show that certain homeopathic treatments are effective for certain conditions such as hay fever, sinusitis, upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea in children and lower back pain. The fact that the results of such studies were unjustifiably dismissed means that NHMRC have misled the public by misreporting the evidence for effectiveness of homeopathy.
Find out more on our Australian Report FAQs page
NHMRC publications 2014
Draft Australian Report
Overview Report Appendices
Review of Submitted Literature
List of Submitted Evidence
HRI publications 2014-15
HRI submission to public consultation