Australia’s peak medical research body, the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is responsible for a flawed report concluding natural therapies such as Naturopathy and Homeopathy have no evidence to support their use. This was part of a political process, instigated in 2012 by the then Federal Treasurer, who flagged potential ‘savings’ by removing rebates for natural therapies.
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Ten reasons why there is a Senate petition & Ombudsman Complaint:
1. Review published in 2015 was the SECOND attempt:
The NHMRC has not disclosed to the Australian public that it produced two reports, one in July 2012 and the one released to the public in March 2015.
2. First review was conducted by a reputable & highly experienced reviewer:
The first review was conducted by a highly experienced and reputable reviewer and a principal author of NHMRC’s own ‘best practice’ guidelines on how to review health evidence.
3. First review was of good methodological quality:
Freedom of Information (FOI) documents have revealed expert peer reviewer advice praising the high standard of the first review.
4. Second review – unreported, midstream changes to the research protocol:
The research protocol (the rules) for the second review was agreed and finalised in December 2012, but was never published – only revealed through FOI.
5. Use of arbitrary criteria – created & applied retrospectively:
NHMRC used a method that has never been used in any other review, before or since, by any other research group or agency. NHMRC decided that for trials to be ‘reliable’ they had to have at least 150 participants and reach an unusually high 100% threshold for quality (5/5 on the Jadad or equivalent scale).
6. No original studies assessed & ‘assumptions’ made about missing data
The Optum Overview did not retrieve or assess any original studies – unprecedented in NHMRC reviews. Instead it relied exclusively on secondary sources (systematic reviews), most of which (88%) were judged to be poor quality due to factors such as missing data (e.g. unreported study quality) and inaccurate reporting (e.g. study sample sizes).
7. No subject or research experts:
NHMRC guidelines and standards mandate that its review and guideline development processes involve subject and clinical experts in the topic under review – for obvious reasons. Despite having no prior knowledge, experience or expertise in homeopathy, no research or subject experts were included on the expert committee.
8. Hidden expert peer reviewer advice:
In 2013, the NHMRC contracted the Australasian Cochrane Centre (ACC) to peer review the methodology for the second review. The ACC identified a number of unaddressed methodological issues and advised:
“when a substantial proportion of small (but good quality) studies show significant differences, […] ‘no reliable evidence’ does not seem an accurate reflection of the body of evidence.”
9. Conflicts of interest:
In 2012, the NHMRC appointed a member of Australia’s leading anti-natural medicine lobby group, Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM), as the Chair of the Homeopathy Working Committee (HWC) to oversee the review. He did not initially declare his conflict, which when discovered was not formally managed.
In 2011, before any evidence had been reviewed, the NHMRC Chairman publicly declared,
“Let me assure you I am no supporter of homeopathy. As Chairman of NHMRC I can also assure you that NHMRC does not support homeopathy.”