The Council of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has been concerned with reports of non-evidence based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) being used in place of evidence-based treatments for patients with serious but treatable conditions.
To address these concerns, the NHMRC Strategic Plan 2010-2012 identified ‘examining alternative therapy claims’ as a major health issue for consideration by the organisation, including the provision of research funding. Similarly, the current NHMRC Strategic Plan 2013–2015 identifies ‘Claiming benefits for human health not based on evidence” as a major health issue for continued consideration by the organisation.
The term CAM refers to a wide range of health care practices, therapies, procedures and devices that are not presently considered within the domain of conventional medicine. In the Australian context this includes, but is not limited to: acupuncture; aromatherapy; chiropractic; homeopathy; massage; meditation and relaxation therapies; naturopathy; osteopathy; reflexology, traditional Chinese medicine; and the use of vitamin supplements.
Funding scientific research
Since 2000, NHMRC has provided more than $86 million in funding for rigorous scientific research into complementary medicine and alternative therapies.
Resource for clinicians on CAM
NHMRC, under the guidance of the Health Care Committee, is developing a resource for clinicians to facilitate discussion with patients regarding their use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). It provides background information on CAM use, its regulation in Australia and sources of additional information. The ultimate aim of the resource is to better equip patients to make informed decisions about their health care. The draft resource and a supplementary key messages document underwent a 45 day public consultation period, which closed on 13 September 2013. The issues raised in the public consultation submissions will be considered in developing the final resource and key messages document.
This work is separate to the NHMRC homeopathy review and the Department of Health and Ageing’s review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for natural therapies.
NHMRC is currently reviewing the evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy. The homeopathy review will comprise a systematic review of available systematic reviews (Overview) on the effectiveness of homeopathy in treating a variety of clinical conditions in humans. NHMRC will also evaluate and consider published guidelines, other government reports and evidence submitted to the NHMRC. The findings of this homeopathy review will inform the development of an NHMRC information paper and position statement on homeopathy which will be made available to the Australian community to assist people in making informed decisions about their health care.
A Homeopathy Working Committee has been established to advise on this work. The committee membership includes researchers and experts in evidence-based medicine and complementary and alternative medicine.
The Australian public will soon be invited to provide feedback on NHMRC’s draft Information Paper and Position Statement. The release of the draft documents for public consultation will be announced via mainstream media, NHMRC Health Tracker and the NHMRC website.
If you have any queries regarding the homeopathy review, please contact NHMRC at ComplementaryMedicine@nhmrc.gov.au.
Terms of Reference for the Homeopathy Working Committee
1. The Homeopathy Working Committee will guide the development of a review of the literature addressing the effectiveness of homeopathy (the Homeopathy Review) by providing advice to the Office of the NHMRC on:
a) methods to identify relevant published guidelines, systematic reviews, government reports and evidence submitted by relevant bodies; and
b) methods to evaluate relevant published guidelines, systematic reviews, government reports and evidence submitted by relevant bodies.
2. The Homeopathy Working Committee will consider the outcomes of the Homeopathy Review and use these findings to inform the development of:
a) an information paper1on homeopathy; and
b) position statement2 on homeopathy, for consideration by NHMRC Council.
3. The Homeopathy Working Committee will advise on the Homeopathy Review, information paper and position statement for NHMRC’s Health Care Committee, before recommendation to Council.
The Homeopathy Working Committee is effective from 2 April 2012 and appointments were originally scheduled to conclude on 30 June 2013. Appointments have been extended to 2 April 2015. The Homeopathy Working Committee will report to NHMRC’s Health Care Committee.
1An information paper “gives sufficient information to enable the target audience to understand the issues and options associated with a particular topic”. The paper will summarise the evidence but will not make any recommendations about the use of homeopathy.
2A position statement “declares NHMRC’s particular position in a current area of debate, and outlines the rationale for that position”.
Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance
As announced in the 2012-13 Budget, the Department of Health and Ageing (now Department of Health) will undertake a review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for natural therapies (the Review). The Review will examine the evidence of clinical efficacy, cost effectiveness and safety and quality of natural therapies.
NHMRC has been commissioned by the Department of Health and Ageing (now Department of Health) to perform a series of systematic reviews of systematic reviews (Overviews) of the scientific literature examining the effectiveness and where available, the safety and cost effectiveness of a number of natural therapies.
The outcomes of these reviews will be provided to the Department of Health to assist them in formulating the Review findings.