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Why on earth is the NHS spending even a single penny on homeopathy?

A recent article in The Independent has, once again, highlighted NHS spending on homeopathic remedies (‘NHS has spent more than £1.75m on homeopathy, despite admitting there is no good-quality evidence it works’, 7 August 2016). Although the piece cited a spend of £1.75m in the past decade, this likely accounts only for GP prescriptions — our own investigations have shown spending is much closer to £5m per year, once the costs of consultations at homeopathic clinics and hospitals are accounted for.

With the overwhelming consensus of every reputable body being that homeopathy is not effective for any condition, this spending is clearly indefensible, not least at a time when pressure is on the NHS to make every penny of its finite resources count.

Fortunately, signs are positive that the NHS is finally moving away from this disproven treatment. When asked in 2014, only 31 of 211 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) funded homeopathy. Over the past two years, that number has fallen to 18 CCGs, and is set to fall further. Homeopathic hospitals in the north west and south west have closed, and have been replaced by private practices whose funding is now under review. June 2016 saw the end of homeopathy in Liverpool CCG following a successful challenge from our charity, and, by the end of the year, Wirral CCG – the last vestige of NHS homeopathy funding in the entire north of England – is likely to have followed suit following a public consultation.

Even the direct funding of homeopathy through GPs’ prescription, which forms the basis of The Independent’s figures, has fallen dramatically. The latest reports show an annual spend of £95,000 — down from a high of £915,000 each year in 1996. Later in 2016 the Department of Health, prompted by our legal correspondence, is set to consult on adding homeopathic remedies to the Schedule 1 ‘Blacklist’, prohibiting GPs from prescribing the remedies on the NHS and ending this aspect of spending completely .

Although homeopathy supporters may dismiss the annual homeopathy spend as being of small concern to an NHS budget of £116bn, we firmly believe that every penny spent on homeopathy represents money that could instead be spent on proven treatments that offer a real benefit to patients.

Currently, any patient whose treatment is delayed or denied because of budgetary reasons has every right to be deeply frustrated when they see the sums wasted on disproven homeopathic remedies.

Thankfully, as NHS bodies around the country end funding for ineffective and pseudoscientific homeopathy services, that frustration may well be short-lived.

Michael Marshall

Project director

The Good Thinking Society

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2016.20201561

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