Glasgow homeopathic hospital tipped to be pain centre
Scotland's only homeopathic hospital may be about to become the country's first dedicated centre for chronic pain, the BBC understands.
The Glasgow hospital's future has been in doubt because of the controversial nature of homeopathic medicine.
But in recent weeks, Health Secretary Alex Neil has hinted a new centre for the treatment of chronic pain could be located there.
He has also said he is "determined" to keep the Homeopathic Hospital open.
In November, he told an audience of about 200 people at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde's annual review he wanted to "develop its services".
He repeated these comments to staff on a recent visit to the Homeopathic Hospital.Single location
His remarks were in marked contrast to official statements about the hospital a decade ago when the local health board was proposing its closure.
The Scottish government is looking for a home for a new chronic pain centre, following the results of a public consultation last year.
The vast majority of respondents said they wanted a Centre of Excellence in a single location.
Homeopathy involves treating people with highly diluted substances with the aim of triggering the body's own healing mechanisms.
Medical scientists have said many trials have shown it is no better than a placebo.
There were once many homeopathic hospitals in the UK but now only four remain, in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow.'Beautiful hospital'
The BBC understands that referrals to the Glasgow hospital, which is based beside Gartnavel Hospital, have fallen since several health boards withdrew funding for patients to be treated there.
End Quote Dorothy Grace Elder Journalist and campaigner
If they took chronic pain patients, hopefully that would be a double victory”
"I think it does make sense," said journalist and former MSP Dorothy Grace Elder, who has spent many years campaigning for a Scottish centre for the treatment of chronic pain.
"It is the most beautiful hospital. If they took chronic pain patients, hopefully that would be a double victory: a new residential pain centre in Scotland plus saving and maintaining that hospital."
A dedicated pain centre could cut waiting times for appointments, which are currently up to 31 weeks. It would also mean patients would no longer have to make long journeys to Bath for inpatient care.
The Homeopathic Hospital has recently attempted to distance itself from alternative medicine by renaming itself a "Centre for Integrative Care".
Catherine Hughes went to the hospital as a "last resort" 20 years ago after developing severe reactions to drugs for a chronic illness.
She said she wished she had gone there sooner.
"The unit in many ways has been misrepresented as just being a homeopathic service when it offers the best of both worlds, both conventional and complementary under one roof, with a full multidisciplinary staff," she said.
"It is the jewel in the crown of the NHS here in Scotland."
Lothian and Highland health boards have stopped sending patients to the Homeopathic Hospital and NHS Lanarkshire is currently conducting a public consultation on the issue.
Doctors at the hospital said it has always focused on holistic care rather than just homeopathy, and already treats a number of people with chronic pain.
They said that, by refusing to refer patients, health boards were denying them access to specialists in physiotherapy, acupuncture and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Ms Hughes welcomes the idea of the hospital becoming a centre for chronic pain patients too, provided that does not infringe on existing services.
"I think that would be a very good thing as long as it was an integrated service," she said.
"So long that the pain centre didn't just come in and take over."
The Glasgow hospital was built in 1999 using public donations and features a striking design around a central garden.
However, the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank is also lobbying to be the home of Scotland's new chronic pain centre.
It is already the home of national heart and lung services, and a centre of excellence for orthopaedics.