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NHS to continue funding homoeopathy

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There are no plans to stop funding homeopathy on the NHS despite a critical report from MPs earlier this year, the government has said.

Health minister Anne Milton said complementary and alternative medicine “has a long tradition” and very vocal people both in favour of it and against.

In February, MPs said homeopathic medicine should no longer be funded on the NHS and called for a ban on the medicines carrying medical claims on their labels.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee said there is no evidence the drugs are any more effective than a placebo - the same as taking a sugar or dummy pill and believing it works.

Last month, doctors attending the British Medical Association (BMA) annual conference backed this view, saying homeopathic remedies should be banned on the NHS and taken off pharmacy shelves where they are sold as medicines.

Ms Milton said the government welcomed the MPs` report but “remain of the view that the local National Health Service and clinicians are best placed to make decisions on what treatment is appropriate for their patients”.

These decisions should take account of safety, and clinical and cost effectiveness, she said, adding that the government remained committed to providing good-quality information on the treatments.

Homeopathy, which is a 200-year-old system, has been funded on the NHS since its inception in 1948.

It differs from herbal medicine in that it relies on substances being diluted many times, something the MPs said could not be scientifically proved to work.

There are four homeopathic hospitals in the UK, in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow.

Estimates on how much the NHS spends on homeopathy vary, with the Society of Homeopaths putting the figure at £4 million a year including the cost of running hospitals.

Former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who was a member of the Science and Technology Committee when it published its report, said:

“How does the government justify allowing treatments that do not work to be provided by the NHS in the name of choice, when it allows medicines which do work to be banned from NHS use?”

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Readers' comments (5)

  • A few years ago i kept getting blind boils, after several tests the doctors could not come up with a cause or a permanent cure or one that would last any length of time. At one stage i was on two anti biotics, amonting to 3000mgs a day, after a fornight things hadn't improved and i felt like a wet dishcloth. This had been goingon for a year on and off, so i finally decided enough was enough. I went to a homeopath and within weeks had shown a great improvement, this was 15 years ago and have been clear since.So its a case of each to their own, if it was to occur again i know where i would go.

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  • From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The expression anecdotal evidence has two distinct meanings.

    this one seems most appropriate here...

    Evidence, which may itself be true and verifiable, used to deduce a conclusion which does not follow from it, usually by generalizing from an insufficient amount of evidence. For example "my grandfather smoked like a chimney and died healthy in a car crash at the age of 99" does not disprove the proposition that "smoking markedly increases the probability of cancer and heart disease at a relatively early age". In this case, the evidence may itself be true, but does not warrant the conclusion.

    The conclusion is unreliable; it may not be untrue, but it doesn't follow from the "evidence".



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  • Martyn Butcher

    I have a real problem with this ruling. Like Evan Harris I really can't understand the logic in allowing NHS funding to be diverted to treatments with no proven efficacy when other scientifically proven technologies and medicines are denied to patients in need.
    This smacks of political correctness gone mad. Just because we've seen homeopathy in the NHS since its inception doesn't make its continued funding right. Surely we have moved on in our understanding of science and medicines; it is the responsibility of healthcare professionals to apply the principles of Governance, Best Practice care and Evidence Based (or at least linked) Medicine in all aspects of our work or have we really not moved on from the days of "snake-oil" remedies?

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  • The NHS also funds acupuncture, which cannot be explained scientifically, but works well for many people with a variety of symptoms. It may well be the placebo effect, but does it matter if patients are rendered symptom-free? Neither homeopathy nor acupuncture are expensive treatments and they are free from side-effects. If homeopathic treatments including the running of hospitals cost only 4 million pounds per year, why stop? £4000,000 would not pay for many of the expensive treatments banned by the NHS.
    I have had successful treatment from a homeopathic doctor( a registered GP who also practiced homeopathy) for depression and also for chilblains. Whilst I recognise that there may have been an element of placebo effect in the treatment for depression (he also spent a lot of time listening to me) I fail to see how a placebo could rid me of chilblains!

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  • Actually it was a very small number of MP's in a small sub-committe backed by a very vocal yet tiny number of western medical practitioners who in their humble opinion suggested that the NHS should no longer fund something they weren't in control of or had any understanding of.
    Science is easily applied to alternative therapies if it is applied correctly and within the mode of the discipline being tested so that it actually tests it effectively. People such as Edzard Ernst who claim by his experiment with arnica that homeopathy does not work, only demonstrated his profound lack of understanding of the subject he claims to be a professor of.
    Research is being produced that demonstrates some very interesting ideas which if anyone followed the MP debate would be aware of and not trotting out misinformation.

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