Third of NHS trusts fund homeopathy

Homeopathic pills Homeopathic remedies often contain few or no active ingredients

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A third of NHS trusts still fund homeopathy despite repeated calls for them to stop, an investigation has found.

GP magazine obtained data from two thirds of primary care trusts, showing 31% were paying for patients to use the highly-diluted remedies.

It comes after doctors and the House of Commons' Health Committee called for NHS funding of homeopathy to end.

However, the government has said it is up to local trusts to decide.

The research by the magazine involved sending freedom of information requests to all 151 primary care trusts, which fund local services.

They received 104 responses, with 32 confirming they were funding homeopathy. Of the 72 that did not, 10 had stopped funding it in the last four years.

Previous estimates have put NHS spending on the treatment at £4m a year - this pays for four dedicated homeopathic hospitals and prescriptions.

What is homeopathy?

  • Involves giving people very dilute amounts of a substance that in larger amounts might produce symptoms similar to the condition being treated
  • For example, one remedy which might be used in a person suffering from insomnia would be made from coffee
  • Supporters believe homeopathy helps relieve a range of minor ailments from bruising to insomnia
  • But critics say it is no better than sugar pills and people only get better because they believe the treatment will work - the so-called placebo effect

The findings by GP provoked a mixed response.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson is head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, which has a policy calling for no NHS funding for homeopathy.

She said: "While the BMA supports the Department of Health view to allow primary care trusts 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 evidence base and that may not work."

But Cristal Sumner, chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association, said the spending was justified.

"Many PCTs are still funding it because it is popular with patients and provides a cost-effective alternative when conventional treatments have failed."

Homeopathy is a 200-year-old system of treatment that uses highly-diluted substances, sometimes so none of the original product is left.

It is given orally in the belief that it will stimulate the body's self-healing mechanism.

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