A HEALTH board has become the first in Scotland to begin phasing out homeopathic treatments on the NHS, after deciding they provide no clinical benefit.
NHS Highland spends a minimum of 13,000 a year on referrals to two homeopathic practitioners in Inverness. But it decided yesterday to withdraw support for the alternative therapy, which has come under fire recently by doctors and a cross-party group of MPs.
In February the Commons science and technology committee said the NHS should stop funding homeopathy, which it said acted only as a placebo. In June the British Medical Association also urged the Scottish NHS to withdraw the 1.5 million spent each year on homeopathic treatments.
NHS Highland has decided to set up a clinical board to ensure services it provides are evidence-based and cost-effective. It agreed to phase out funding to some non-drug treatments, including those where there was "no evidence of clinical benefit, such as homeopathy".
Margaret Somerville, the board's director of health policy, said patients offered an ineffective treatment might delay getting the most appropriate help for their condition, with possible serious consequences.
"I'm very clear there is a good evidence base out there (about homeopathy]. It's been looked at very closely by people a lot more expert than me and they are happy there is no clinical benefit to be had from homeopathy."
She said those getting treatment at present would be able to finish the course and there was no set timetable yet to withdraw funding altogether.
Gavin Hogg, of the Highland Health Voices Network and a user of homeopathic treatments, said he would lodge a formal complaint against the decision.
He said: "If the homeopathic service is withdrawn it will mean people are driven towards the private sector, which they won't be able to afford."
In all nine of Scotland's 14 health boards offer some funding for homeopathy and only one - Ayrshire and Arran - said it was being reviewed.
According to the British Homeopathic Association (BHA) the NHS spends 4m on homeopathic treatment in the UK. This includes funding for four homeopathic hospitals, including one in Glasgow.
BHA chief executive Cristal Sumner said: "Cutting the service is a false economy. Patients who receive homeopathy largely haven't been helped with conventional medicine. If they are denied homeopathic treatment they will go back to more expensive conventional treatments on the NHS."