Third of PCTs still fund homeopathy

One in three PCTs still fund homeopathy services despite efforts to prioritise spending on evidence-based therapies, a GP investigation has found.

Homeopathy: expensive sugar pills or valid therapy (Photograph: SPL)
Homeopathy: expensive sugar pills or valid therapy (Photograph: SPL)

Since 2006, the number of PCTs funding homeopathy has fallen by 24 per cent, responses from 104 PCTs to a Freedom of Information request show.

Trusts said they had cut off funding for homeopathy because of the lack of strong evidence to support its use.

But 30 per cent of PCTs continue to fund homeopathy services. Despite fewer trusts funding it, overall spending on homeopathy by PCTs rose by 5 per cent from 2007/8 to 2008/9 and by 7 per cent from 2008/9 to 2009/10.

  • The PCTs which do and do not fund homeopathy services are shown on this map

View Homeopathy funding by PCT in a full screen map

East Midlands GP Dr Joanne Watt said that, with limited funding, the NHS should only fund services needed by patients.

'I'd find it difficult to explain to someone why I cannot pay for their knee operation if we'd been paying for expensive sugar pills,' she said.

'There might be areas where there isn't evidence about a treatment, but this is like trying to introduce crystal healing into the NHS.'

She added: 'I do not doubt the benefit of a longer and holistic consultation, but feel it should not be necessary to see someone supplying an unscientific treatment to experience this.'

Shropshire GP Dr Mary McCarthy said that, despite the BMA's position, the government had still refused to move on the issue. 'There is a small but vociferous minority who have influence with government which, I feel, is the reason that NHS funding has not been withdrawn,' she said.

BMA head of science and ethics Dr Vivienne Nathanson said NHS resources should only be used to support treatments that had been shown to be effective. 'While the BMA supports the DoH view that PCTs make their own decisions about how to spend their resources, we are concerned that scarce funding will be spent on "treatment" that has no evidence base and that may not work,' she said.

But Dr John Garner, of the BMA's Lothian division, said although he hoped GP consortia would not commission homeopathy, GPs doing so should be supported. 'Homeopathic medicines are usually cheaper than conventional medicines and if they work for individual patients we should not deny them the benefit,' he said.

Dr Sara Eames, president of the Faculty of Homeopathy and a former GP, said that homeopathy could be used to manage patients who are often hard to treat and require costly consultant referrals.

HOMEOPATHY UNDER SCRUTINY

February 2010
A House of Commons science and technology committee report says homeopathy should not be funded by the NHS.

The committee criticised the government for a 'mismatch' between evidence of efficacy and policy.

June 2010
BMA representatives at the LMCs conference and the annual representative meeting pass a motion stating homeopathic remedies should no longer be funded or commissioned on the NHS.

July 2010
The government's response to the science and technology committee report says homeopathy should continue to be available on the NHS so that patients can make informed choices about treatment.

December 2010
The government rejects a 1,333-signature petition requesting that 'NICE urgently investigates why scarce NHS resources are being committed to this seemingly unproven form of treatment'.


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