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A chance to help end homeopathy prescribing on the NHS

On 21 July 2017, NHS England announced plans to prevent GPs from prescribing homeopathic remedies (The Pharmaceutical Journal online, 21 July 2017).

NHS England’s consultation is part of a wider cost-saving exercise, but in relation to homeopathy alone NHS England estimates spending to be £578,000 in the past five years. This accounts only for GP prescription costs; add in homeopathy services and consultation costs, and the total spend in the same period exceeds £20m.

The NHS has increasingly distanced itself from this ineffective treatment in recent years. In June 2016, following questions raised by our charity and a public consultation, NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) ended funding for their homeopathy service; in October 2016, NHS Wirral CCG followed suit. Only the London, Glasgow and Bristol regions now offer homeopathy on the NHS, and in the latter of those the closure of the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital in 2015 has seen homeopathy spending in the region drop by around 30%, with spending anticipated to fall further.

The issue of homeopathy prescription costs is one we raised with the Department of Health in 2015, when we highlighted the inconsistency in their decision to omit homeopathy from the NHS Blacklist — the list of 3,000 products that doctors cannot prescribe. The department assured us at the time that they would be reviewing this policy following our intervention. Two years later, we are pleased to see the promised consultation finally taking place, via NHS England’s consultation.

This is not yet, however, a fait accompli: the consultation remains open until 21 October 2017, and homeopaths will undoubtedly be arguing in favour of their sugar pills. It is therefore vital that members of the public, interested organisations and subject experts, including pharmacists, submit their thoughts on the plans.

It is also worth noting that this consultation will not directly affect homeopathy commissioning in Bristol and London. However, there are signs that these homeopathic services may be on the way out sooner or later, with NHS Enfield CCG’s decision to decommission their homeopathy service expected in the coming months.

We are hopeful that other London CCGs will follow their lead, bringing an end to the estimated £3m spent on homeopathy in the capital. It is hard to believe that a clear and public move by NHS England to end support for homeopathy will not have some influence.

Although NHS England’s consultation should not be seen as the final nail in the coffin for NHS homeopathy, it is undoubtedly a significant milestone in ending NHS spending on a treatment which has been known by so many and for so long to be ineffective.

Michael Marshall

Project director

Good Thinking Society

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203287

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