Full programme transcript >>
In the UK today there are five NHS homeopathic hospitals, in Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, London and Tunbridge Wells.
In this episode of Case Notes Dr Mark Porter visits one of them: the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital.
He discovers how patients get referred there and with what kind of conditions.
He explores the relationship between homeopathy and orthodox medicine by talking to experts from Bristol and Glasgow who have been trained in both disciplines.
Like cures like
Homeopathy is based on the principle that like cures like.
Homeopathic practitioners believe that whereas mainstream medicine seeks to relieve illness by suppressing a patient's symptoms, their approach helps to stimulate the body to deal with the underlying problem.
By using doses of substances which have been diluted so much that they are undetectable, to enhance the symptoms of a specific condition, homeopathy seeks to trigger the body's own defences.
A holistic approach
Mark sits in on a consultation between Dr David Spence, Clinical Director of the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, and one of his patients.
As well as having more time - up to 45 minutes for an initial consultation - homeopathic practitioners look at the person, not just the symptoms.
This overall picture helps them to select exactly the right remedy to suit the individual - and there are more than 3,500 to choose from.
A controversial therapy
Despite its growing popularity, there's mixed evidence to back up the claims of how effective homeopathy is.
This means that many in the mainstream medical community are cynical about its usefulness.
Dr Elizabeth Thompson, Consultant Homeopathic Physician at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, tells Mark why she feels that it's the type of trials, rather than the medicine itself, that causes these poor results, and that a different approach is needed to prove that homeopathy is a helpful treatment.
24 hour homeopathic care
Mark talks to Dr David Reilly, Consultant at the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital about the hospital's unique in-patients ward.
The ward recently escaped closure due to proposed budget cuts.
Dr Reilly tells Mark why he feels it offers a vital service to these patients, 500 of whom stay use the 15 beds every year.
He says that a year after their stay at the hospital, up to 70% of them report a real change in the quality of their lives, they visit their GPs less often and have fewer visits to hospitals elsewhere.
Medical student Charlotte Ellis is doing a placement at the Bristol Homeopathic hospital, as part of her training.
She's keen to listen to patients' needs, and hopes to use some of her experiences when she qualifies.