NHS Lothian set to axe £240k homeopathy funding

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FREE alternative medicine clinics in Lothian look set to be scrapped after a public consultation found an overwhelming majority do not think they should be funded by the NHS.

NHS Lothian – which spends around £240,000 on homeopathy each year – launched the consultation exercise in September, asking the public whether it should continue to pay for the service.

Almost 4000 people responded, with more than 70 per cent saying that homeopathy, which is not conclusively shown to work by any scientific study, should not be paid for with taxpayers’ cash.

NHS Lothian said despite the landslide no final decision over the future of homeopathy had been taken, although the results were hailed as a victory by campaigners for an “evidence-based approach” in healthcare.

But Cristal Sumner, chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association, claimed the consultation had been “fundamentally flawed”.

She said: “The report relies heavily on the results of the online questionnaire which the Lothian consultation team publicly acknowledged was open to abuse. This is just one of many serious flaws in the consultation process which the BHA, doctors and patient groups alerted NHS Lothian about.

“Critically, NHS Lothian from the outset has failed to offer any alternative to the homeopathy service, if it is discontinued, as it is legally required to do when 
considering a major change in service provision.

“At a price of 22p per person in Lothian for treating often chronically ill patients, it will be difficult to find a cheaper alternative.”

NHS Lothian makes between 1300 and 1800 homeopathy appointments each year and runs clinics in Leith, Dalkeith and Livingston.

Most Lothian GPs said homeopathy should not be on the NHS, but a minority said it was of benefit – particularly for those with complex conditions.

Of the 3720 consultation responses, 72 per cent were against NHS-funded homeopathy, 27 per cent backed the status quo and around one per cent were undecided.

Around 71 per cent of people who completed the survey were from Lothian. Of those living in the region, 74 per cent said their health board should not fund homeopathy.

The 367 people who filled in paper forms were likely to favour NHS Lothian paying for homeopathy, with 85.3 per cent backing public funding. Of the 3353 online responses, 78.3 per cent said NHS Lothian should stop paying for the service.

Keir Liddle, president of the Edinburgh Skeptics Society, which says it promotes science, reason and critical thinking, backed the consultation findings. He said: “Homeopathy is an unevidenced-based relic. Edinburgh Skeptics welcomes the consultation response and hope that NHS Lothian acts appropriately in ending the funding of magic water on the NHS and using the money saved, as meagre as that amount may seem, to fund more appropriate, evidence-based treatments and care.”

Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning at NHS Lothian, said the results would be discussed at various meetings. He added: “I would like to stress that no final decision has been taken.”

Offbeat cure or ‘witchcraft’?

HOMEOPATHY is based on ideas developed in the 1790s by a German doctor named Samuel Hahnemann.

Its main priniciple is that “like cures like”, meaning a substance that causes symptoms can also be used to treat those symptoms, by triggering the body’s natural healing systems.

Substances are diluted in water – often to the point that there is none or very little left – before it is given to a patient, usually as a tablet.

Celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Paul McCartney and Prince Charles are reported to have used homeopathy.

But critics say any benefit is no more than a placebo and no study has shown it to work.

In 2010, some members of the British Medical Association declared homeopathy “witchcraft” and said its funding on the NHS was a “disgrace”.