Demand for joined-up thinking on homeopathic therapy

Some within the medical profession have dismissed homeopathy as a waste of money. Picture: Neil Hanna
Some within the medical profession have dismissed homeopathy as a waste of money. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Huge variations in spending on homeopathic treatment across Scotland have been highlighted in new figures.

The statistics showed that while some health boards spend nothing at all on the controversial alternative treatment, others are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.

The Scottish Conservatives said the issue of funding for homeopathic services needed to be resolved once and for all in the interests of equality of access to the therapy.

Homeopathic medicine works by taking substances that in larger amounts would produce the symptoms of an illness and diluting them until only minute doses remain.

While many patients rely on these treatments and say they have given them relief where conventional medicine has failed, others within the medical profession have dismissed homeopathy as a waste of money.

There was controversy earlier this year when NHS Lothian announced plans to axe its homeopathic service, causing uproar among patients who said they relied on it.

The closure plans also raised concerns that other boards would follow in efforts to save money in their ever- tightening budgets. The latest figures,revealed under Freedom of Information, showed that in the last five years more than £12 million was spent on homeopathy across Scotland.

Figures for 2008-9 to 2012-13 showed that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which runs a homeopathic hospital, spent the most at more than £9m, while NHS Lothian spent over £1m.

NHS Grampian, with a spend of £538,000, and Highland with £339,236, were also high up the spending table.

But in contrast, NHS Fife, Forth Valley and Lanarkshire said they did not fund the treatments at all.

The Scottish Conservatives have urged the Scottish Government to take the lead in establishing a national position on homeopathic services.

Their health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “It doesn’t really matter whether you think homeopathy is a lifesaver or a nonsense, this disparity has to end.

“We need a proper debate on the merits of the treatment so a proper approach can be taken to this.

“It is difficult for health boards when you have doctors on one side vehemently discrediting homeopathy, yet hundreds of patients on the other giving very compelling accounts of why it works for them.”

Mr Carlaw said homeopathy did not cost much in context of the huge £10 billion annual health budget, but it was wrong that some health boards were investing hundreds of thousands in it while others were dismissing it altogether.

Dr Charles Saunders, deputy chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said: “While the BMA supports the policy to allow NHS boards to make their own decisions about how to spend their resources, we are concerned that scarce funding will be spent on ‘treatment’ that has no scientific evidence base to support its use.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy covers a wide range of services and we recognise that CAM therapies may offer relief to some people suffering from a wide variety of conditions.

“It is for individual NHS boards to decide what CAM they make available based on the needs of their resident populations, in line with national guidance.”