‘Homeopathy should not be funded by the NHS, MPs expected to say’ – Sunday Telegraph

From the Sunday Telegraph, 21 February 2010 (Story by health correspondent, Laura Donnelly)

Homoeopathic medicines should not be allowed to make claims they cannot justify and should not be paid for by the taxpayer, MPs will recommend.

A report from the Commons science and technology committee is expected to criticise the use of NHS resources to fund the remedies based on the current evidence for them.

The committee will also argue that medicines should not be allowed to use phrases like “used to treat” in their marketing, as consumers might think there is clinical evidence that they work.

Latest figures show 54,000 patients are treated each year at four NHS homoeopathic hospitals in London, Glasgow, Bristol and Liverpool, at a cost of £4 million.

A fifth hospital in Tunbridge Wells in Kent was forced to close last year when local NHS funders stopped paying for treatments.

Homoeopathy is based on a theory that substances which cause symptoms in a healthy person can, when vastly diluted, cure the same problems in a sick person.

Proponents say the resulting “remedy” retains a “memory” of the original ingredient – a concept dismissed by scientists.

During the committee’s inquiry, the British Medical Association said the use of homoeopathic medicine could not be justified on the current evidence.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said there was no possible reason why such treatments, marketed by an industry worth £40 million in this country, could be effective scientifically.

Advocates of homoeopathy say even if the effect of the remedies is to work as a placebo, they are chosen by thousands of people, and do not carry the risks and side effects of many mainstream medicines.

Prince Charles, one of the best known proponents of the concept, which originated in Germany 200 years ago, founded the charity The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, which promotes the use of alternative medicines.

Dr Michael Dixon, the charity’s medical director, urged the Government not to restrict the use of homoeopathy, which he said would mean “abandoning patients”.

“For all those people with long term conditions for whom there is no evidence-based medicine, it doesn’t matter how it works, what matters is whether it helps them get better,” he said.

A survey carried out at England’s NHS homoeopathic hospitals found 70 per cent of patients said they felt some improvement after undergoing treatment.

David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, said: “It really is very simple, there is nothing in the pills. The danger is that people get diverted from the actual medicine which could cure them.”

Last year an Australian homoeopath and his wife were found guilty of the manslaughter of their baby daughter because they did not seek conventional medical treatment for the nine-month-old, who died of septicaemia.

Cristal Sumner, chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association, said: “We feel the [select committee] inquiry was too narrow in its remit, there is plenty of evidence to support homoeopathy, with 100 randomised controlled trials, and many more on outcome measures, which reflect how patients say they feel.”

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