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NHS should stop funding homeopathy, say MPs


The NHS should stop funding homeopathic medicine because the drugs are no better than placebos, a parliamentary committee has said.

MPs called for the MHRA to strip them of medical claims on their labels, and argued taking the drugs had the same effect as ingesting a sugar pill.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee said the 200-year-old practice, which has been funded on the NHS since 1948, could not be scientifically proven to work.

Homeopathy uses heavily diluted versions of medical drugs to treat patients.

A committee report said: “We consider the notion that ultra-dilutions can maintain an imprint of substances previously dissolved in them to be scientifically implausible.

“In our view, the systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclusively demonstrate that homeopathic products perform no better than placebos.”

Dr Michael Dixon, medical director of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, said patients did show improvements when using the system.


Should the NHS pay for homeopathic treatment?

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Readers' comments (12)

  • Homeopathy within the NHS accounts for only approx £4 million of the entire budget......small feed indeed.

    But i agree entirely that the NHS should stop funding it. It has no evidence base whatsoever.

    We can't have NICE denying folk drugs and then the NHS wasting 4 bloody million on quack-trap hokus-pokus.

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  • Whilst it is a very small amount of the NHS' budget, it is still 4 million that can be better spent elsewhere especially as there is no evidence that it works or, crucially, has any effect at all.
    If memory serves (don't quote me, look it up) homeopathy actually has a worse effect than a placebo.
    Do you think a major pharma company could get NICE to approve one of their medications if it was shown to be less use than a placebo?
    It's high time all alternative medicines were reappraised for their viability and effectiveness (crystal therapy, aromatherapy, reiki, reflexology?) lest we return to the dark ages or a world of quacks pedalling snake oil and lucky charms.

    In my opinion.

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  • In summarising that there is no evidence for homeopathy, the committee inexplicably
    overlooks the fact that, by the end of 2009, there were 74 randomised controlled trials
    (RCTs) of homeopathy published in peer-reviewed journals which describe
    statistically significant results, from which firm conclusions can be drawn. Of these
    RCTs comparing homeopathy either with placebo or established conventional
    treatments, 63 were positive for homeopathy and 11 were negative.1
    In its press release today, the Committee advises the government that “prescribing
    pure placebos is bad medicine’. Clearly, it is not aware that a 2008 meta-analysis
    1 Mathie, R. The Research Evidence Base for Homeopathy. British Homeopathic Association, 2009
    involving 35 clinical trials and 5,000 patients suffering from depression found that
    commonly prescribed antidepressants have little more effect than 'dummy' placebo
    And yet, prescriptions for anti-depressants are at record levels, with 31 million written
    in 2006 at a cost to the NHS of almost £300million.3
    To put this in context, the NHS spends £11 billion on its annual drugs budget. Of
    that, the annual bill for homeopathic remedies is £152,000.4
    (quoted from SOH press release)
    Taken from Complementary and Natural Healthcare News: February 2010 published by CMA (Complementary Medical Association.

    [Image][Marker]Homeopathic Remedies Do Work to Kill Breast Cancer Cells; Breakthrough Research
    [Image]A new study, just published in the International Journal of Oncology, reveals that homeopathic remedies have a beneficial effect on breast cancer cells.

    The study, which was done in Houston Texas, shows that certain homeopathic remedies have preferentially elevated cytotoxic (killing) effects on breast cancer cells - compared with cells derived from normal breast epithelium.

    The team of researchers commented that the homeopathic remedies appeared to have similar activity to the activity of paclitaxel (Taxol), the most commonly used chemotherapeutic drug for breast cancer, without the toxic effect on the normal cells.

    The experiments were conducted in triplicate and repeated at least twice for each remedy. The homeopathic medicines tested included: Carcinosin, 30C; Conium maculatum, 3C; Phytolacca decandra, 200C and Thuja occidentalis, 30C. The most effective remedies were found to be Carcinosin and Phytolacca.

    The researchers concluded, "the ultra-diluted natural homeopathic remedies investigated in this study offer the promise of being effective preventive and/or therapeutic agents for breast cancer and worthy of further study."

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  • It is misinformed to say there is no evidence base for homeopathy. There are many trials published in peer reviewed journals where homeopathic therapy showed significant positive results. It has also shown to be beneficial in patient outcome studies. There are studies which show positive results for conditions such as otitis media in children and allergy (Jacobs et. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal 2001, 20(2) and Reilly et al Lancet 1994, 344 1601-6). It is used as part of an integrated approach by doctors practicing in modern health services such as France and Germany. For some patients with chronic conditions, homeopathic treatment has helped improve symptoms and quality of life (Bristol Patient Outcome Study, 2005). NHS provision of homeopathic therapy gives limited access to those who may not be able to afford it and in many cases, may be a more cost-effective treatment option. Where is patient choice in this debate?

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  • The issue is that people polarise and make blanket statements. I believe the balanced facts are that on one hand, you have some unqualified people, and some companies who manufacture products where I think their claims are dubious to say the least.
    On the other hand, you have some very well qualified and practiced Homoepathic practitioners and a number of treatments and therapies which undoubtedly do give very positive outcomes.
    What is ideally needed is a "homeopathic NICE" where the good and the bad can be separated, because clearly there are a lot of positive evidence-based studies for some sections of homeopathy, and probably some negative ones for other areas.
    Basically NHS should fund homeopathy, like other medical treatments, where benefits can be seen to exist.
    It is clear that in a number of cases, homeopathy offers both better and cheaper outcomes than traditional medicines. Also don't forget that many homeopathic remedies have as their basis the same natural ingredients that appear in "pharmaceuticals" - but often at a lower cost.
    After all, I don't think anyone has suggested doing away with the whole NHS just because a few Acute Trusts have failed to perform?

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  • £152,000 spent by the NHS on Homeopathic Remedies is small fry indeed compared to the total £11billion NHS spend on drugs.

    But if the Science & Technology Committe believe that the NHS should not be funding medicines that "perform no better than placebo" they will surely be turning their their attention to the £300 million spent annually by the NHS on 31 million prescriptions for antidepressants which have been shown in a 2008 meta analysis involving 5,000 patients to have "little more effct than 'dummy' placebo pills?"

    Or is placebo only "bad medicine" when it applies to Homeopathy rather than pharmaceutical drugs?

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  • ‘No more than sugar pills?’

    The homeopathic contribution of the NHS has always been greatly valued and respected by those fortunate enough to avail themselves of it. Over recent years, however, homeopathy has sustained a concerted and unrelenting attack by a small group of dogmatists.

    I am saddened to see that such people allow their fundamentalist philosophy to consume so much of their time and effort. A large number of us are not convinced that their motivation is the well-being of the patient, nor does their obsession answer for us such questions as:

    • Why the so called ‘placebo effect’ of homeopathy breaks down when a remedy is ill chosen.
    • Why animals respond so well and so quickly to carefully selected homeopathic remedies.
    • How we are to account for the very large number of detailed remedy pictures built up over many years in the Homeopathic Materia Medica.
    • Why the researches, including statistically significant random double blind trials, reported regularly in ‘Homeopathy’, the Journal of the Faculty of Homeopathy, are apparently ignored.
    • What the French have to gain by requiring their doctors to qualify either in homeopathy or aromatherapy before they can practise.
    • Why the effects of minute doses of a substance are accepted, provided they are not associated with homeopathy. E.g a recent article in ‘The Times’ reported that a dog can detect a teaspoonful of sugar in a million gallons of water. We are told that, the repeated administration of minute traces of peanut can reduce the sensitivity of those with a peanut allergy.

    Science advances when minds are kept open. Although the amount the Health Service sets aside for homeopathy is comparatively small it would be a sad thing if the NHS lost its homeopathic input to the health of the nation as a result of the influence of a small group of dogmatists.

    Michael Pook, Nottingham - (Member:- Action for Homeopathy)

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  • If people are finding benefit from this safe therapy which is costing the NHS very little, I personally dont see the problem. Money can be saved elsewhere; think of the millions+ we lose every year in wasted presciptions alone. I believe that it is only with an open mind that health care will develop. Lets face it, we're only scratching the surface and surely nobody could be so arrogant to assume we have all the answers.
    Homeopathy deserves more respect and attention paid to the evidence that already exists and more money for more research. However this is a system of medicine that is very individualised and so the remedy for 2 people with the same illness may be different and change depending on how the patient progresses and due to many other aspects of the persons being. Nursing is supposed to be holistic - if we are to be truely holistic, we must look to patient choice also.

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  • Anonymous | 23-Feb-2010 12:43 pm
    Anonymous | 24-Feb-2010 1:44 pm:

    'in your opinions' also translates as "I reckon" and "this bloke down the pub told me..."
    also translates as fear, prejudice and ill educated.
    Go read the research for yourselves, don't tell me to go read it when you clearly haven't and express no inclination to. It is there and clearly shows evidence of effect.

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  • Misguided idiots, if this is the voice of nursing I am ashamed to consider myself from the same profession as you alternative medicine charlatans. What next, crystals? As has been pointed out above there is evidence to back up the claims of homeopathy, but there is a wealth of peer review, double blind trials and research to show that it has little, if any effect, better than return to the norm or a placebo. You defenders of this preposterousness pick and choose your evidence to back up what you want to believe whilst ignoring any evidence to the contrary. Big business pharma is just as guilty too, it should be investigated too. A level field for all; evidence for the product or throw it away.

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