SCOTLAND’S second-largest health board was accused of descending into “farce” yesterday after announcing that it will stop funding alternative medicine for patients.
NHS Lothian is withdrawing funding for homeopathic remedies in the region, which provides more than 1,000 appointments for patients each year, including more than 100 people referred by other health boards across the country.
The health authority said the decision reflected the results of a public consultation, which showed most people were against spending nearly £250,000 a year on homeopathy because of a lack of scientific evidence that it works.
But the British Homeopathic Association said the online part of the survey had been “hijacked” by anti-alternative medicine campaigners based in other parts of the UK.
John Cook, chairman of the British Homeopathic Association, said: “The health board has been predisposed to withdrawing the service from the outset of its farcical consultation process, with many patients unaware it was taking place.
“It was a consultation which failed to listen to actual patient feedback in the form of general correspondence and feedback at public meetings, instead concentrating only on the flawed online survey, which was hijacked by people outside Lothian who campaign against homeopathy. Consequently, the survey’s results are skewed and unrepresentative of the local population.”
SNP MSP Jim Eadie was equally critical of the health board.
He said: “It is a matter of deep regret that NHS Lothian have taken this decision without robust consultation or meaningful public engagement. Many patients who currently access the benefit from homeopathic services will be extremely disappointed.
“This short-sighted decision goes against the views of patients and clinicians, along with MSPs in all parties, and I will continue to oppose this decision in the interests of patient choice, good-quality and cost-effective healthcare.”
Defending its ruling, the health board said that the consultation was legitimate and showed little difference between the majority view of people living locally and those from further afield.
It released a statement which read: “The survey results showed that 72 per cent of all those who responded were against the service continuing to be funded by NHS Lothian, with 27 per cent in favour of the status quo and 1 per cent undecided.
“The results also showed that people who lived in the NHS Lothian Health Board area responded similarly, with more than 74 per cent against the health board continuing to pay for homeopathy and approximately 25 per cent in favour.”
Professor Alex McMahon, an NHS Lothian director, said: “We have consulted the public and listened to their views and the survey results are clear in showing that the majority of people are against us continuing to provide homeopathic services.