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DH commits to continue NHS funding of homeopathy

Government rejects MPs call to end NHS funding of homeopathy

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

NHS funding for homeopathic treatments will continue, despite a highly critical report published by MPs earlier this year.

MPs on the parliamentary science and technology select committee published a report on homeopathy in February, which urged the government to withdraw NHS funding for such treatments and for the medicines regulator to stop licensing homeopathic products.

Both proposals were rejected this week by the Department of Health as it published its official response to the report.

Homeopathy has been funded on the NHS since the service began in 1948 and there are four homeopathic hospitals in the UK, in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow.

It is estimated that the NHS spends around £4 million a year on homeopathy.

The select committee’s report said there was no conclusive evidence that homeopathic drugs were any more effective than a placebo and given that existing scientific literature showed no good evidence of efficacy, further clinical trials of homeopathy could not be justified.

The committee said it believed homeopathy was a placebo treatment.

To prescribe these treatments was damaging the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship and because the effect of homeopathy was unreliable and unpredictable, it should not form the sole basis of any treatment on the NHS.

The MPs also wanted the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to stop licensing homeopathic products because they were allowing these products to make medical claims without evidence of efficacy.

The BMA at its annual conference in June voted overwhelmingly for a motion that said homeopathic remedies should be banned on the NHS and taken off pharmacy shelves where they are sold as medicines.

The Department, however, in its response, said the use of homeopathy on the NHS did not amount to a “risk to patient trust, choice or safety”.

In addition, it did not believe the risk was significant enough for the Department to take the unusual step of removing PCTs’ flexibility to make their own decisions.

Public health minister, Anne Milton said: “We believe in patients being able to make informed choices about their treatment, and in a clinician being able to prescribe the treatment they feel most appropriate in particular circumstances, which includes complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy.

“It is the responsibility of clinicians to discuss the risks and benefits of specific treatment options with individual patients; and to take into account safety, clinical and cost-effectiveness and the availability of suitably qualified/regulated practitioners.”

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