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Homeopathy treatments no longer available on the NHS

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Alice Sanderson, August 08, 2018

Homeopathy, the system of alternative medicine based on the doctrine of ‘like cures like’, will no longer be offered on the NHS. The last area in England to offer it decided yesterday that the cost can no longer be justified.

Bristol’s clinical commissioning group (CCG) met to discuss whether the cost of over £100,000 a year is cost-effective in an area that needs to make savings of £37m in the coming financial year.

At their public meeting on Tuesday (7th August) they decided to end public-funded homeopathic treatments, unless it is an exceptional circumstance.

In April, the Royal London Hospital of Integrated Medicine stopped providing homeopathic treatments, leaving Bristol and the Glasgow Centre of Integrative Care the only option for referrals by homeopathic practitioners. With Bristol’s CCG revoking of public funding, it means that nowhere in England offers the treatment.

Homeopathy ‘a placebo’

A report in 2010 by the House of Commons found that homeopathic remedies offered nothing more than a placebo effect (i.e. a dummy treatment).

This was followed in 2017 by a recommendation from NHS England that GPs and other prescribers should no longer provide it. It said: “There is no good quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.”

Despite this, the practice still sees patients. In Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) about 40 patients per year are in receipt of NHS-funded homeopathic consultations, at a cost of £109,476 in 2017-18.

According to the CCG for the area, this equates to “22 hip replacements or 170 cataract operations.”

Exceptional circumstances

Following the decision to restrict referrals, doctors will now need to set out why their patient qualifies as being “clinically exceptional” and why they require the treatments.

Dr Peter Brindle, BNSSG medical director for clinical effectiveness said: "Staff and clinicians from across the CCG have closely examined the full range of clinical evidence available from both sides of the debate, consulted with local people, clinicians, patient groups and providers of homeopathic treatments.”

The change has been criticised by Margaret Wyllie, Chair of the British Homeopathic Association, who said: "The amount of money spent on homeopathy by Bristol CCG is a tiny fraction of the local NHS budget but is of enormous value to the patients who benefit from the treatment, many of whom are elderly, and have chronic health conditions.”

In contrast, scientists say patients are only getting sugar from homeopathic treatments and there are no proven benefits to the practice. This suggests that the decision to withdraw the funding except in ‘exceptional circumstances’ is probably the best option, especially at a time when the NHS desperately needs to save money wherever it can.