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Liverpool CCG set to rethink homeopathy funding

Rethink follows threat of judicial review

Caroline White

Monday, 13 April 2015

Liverpool CCG has decided to review its funding of homeopathic medicine treatments on the NHS following the threat of a judicial review, brought by charity The Good Thinking Society.

Opponents of homeopathy have welcomed the decision amid calls for other CCGs to reconsider their own stance on funding the treatment.

In February, The Good Thinking Society mounted a legal challenge to Liverpool CCG’s decision to approve spending on homeopathic treatments on the grounds that the decision was unlawful, and contrary to the best interests of local patients.

The charity argued that CCGs are obliged to ensure that NHS funds are spent as effectively and responsibly as possible, particularly in the current financial climate.

Homeopathy, it said, “has been thoroughly demonstrated to be neither clinically effective nor cost effective,” and had the current level of spending continued, the CCG would have “wasted” £350,000 on homeopathy within a decade.

“Every penny spent on treatments which do not (and cannot) work is money that could be far better spent elsewhere – for example, on providing effective treatments, funding worthwhile care initiatives and employing more nurses, doctors and counsellors,” said the charity in a statement, issued today.

Homeopathic medicine has been heavily criticised by the BMA, the Chief Medical Officer, the parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee, and the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor.

And over the past two decades, prescriptions fulfilled in community pharmacies for homeopathy on the NHS in England have fallen by over 94% while homeopathic hospitals have seen their funding reallocated.

Liverpool CCG has now agreed to review its decision, starting with a further public consultation after the election.

Chair of The Good Thinking Society and science writer Dr Simon Singh commented: “NHS spending is a major issue, especially in the run-up to the election. Homeopathic treatments when paid for by the NHS are a waste of crucial resources that would be better spent on evidence-based and effective treatments.

“We are delighted at the decision of the Liverpool CCG to rethink its misguided policy on spending money on homeopathy. We are confident that on looking at the evidence Liverpool CCG will decide not to spend any more on this ineffective treatment, and we hope that the few remaining CCGs who currently fund homeopathy will follow suit.”

The concept of patient choice is obviously important, but this needed to be an informed one, said the charity.

“The best evidence has conclusively shown that homeopathy is not an effective treatment, and to continue to offer ineffective treatments under the guise of patient choice raises troubling questions about the important concept of informed choice, and indeed of informed consent,” it said.

Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, said: “Enthusiasts of homeopathy tend to quote 'patient choice' as an argument to have it on the NHS, but this notion is as bogus as homeopathy itself. Patient choice must always be a choice between treatments that are backed by evidence; if not, 'choice' degenerates into little more than arbitrariness.”

Salima Budhani of Bindmans LLP, the law firm representing the charity, said the case underlines the necessity of transparent and accountable decision making by the controllers of health budgets, particularly in the light of the current financial climate in the NHS. 

“CCGs have legal obligations to properly consider relevant evidence, as well as the views of experts and residents, in deciding how precious NHS resources are to be spent. It is essential that commissioning decisions are rational and evidence-based. Liverpool CCG’s decision to reconsider its position on the funding of homeopathy in these circumstances is to be welcomed.”

The charity has now called on the next Health Secretary to issue guidance on the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.

“The provision of such guidance would be of significant benefit to CCGs in justifying decisions to terminate funding,” said Ms Budhani.

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