Government ignored our advice on homeopathic remedies, say experts

Treatments still funded on NHS despite lack of proof that they work

The coalition Government ignored scientific advice on the questionable nature of homeopathy by continuing to allow the NHS to fund homeopathic treatment despite there being next to no evidence that it works, leading scientists have told The Independent.

Last week, health ministers refused calls from the House of Commons science and technology committee to stop the NHS funding homeopathic treatment on the grounds that such a ban would limit patient choice and contradict the Government's stated aim of devolving more power to the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) of the NHS.

However, the Government's own chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington, said that he had spoken informally to coalition ministers about his grave concerns about homeopathy and the Department of Health's policy of allowing it to be prescribed under the NHS.

"I remain of the view that the evidence of efficacy and the scientific evidence base of homeopathy is highly questionable. It is vitally important that the public can make informed choices on their use of homeopathy, so the evidence base must be freely available in an easily-accessible format," Sir John said.

The Government does not know how many PCTs prescribe homeopathic treatment or how much it costs but the total annual funding is believed to run into millions of pounds. Earlier this year, the Commons' science committee recommended that the NHS should stop funding homeopathy on the grounds that it is a waste of money and it gives patients the false impression that such treatment works.

"When the NHS funds homeopathy, it endorses it. Since the NHS Constitution explicitly gives people the right to expect that decision on the funding of drugs and treatments are made 'following proper consideration of the evidence', patients may reasonably form the view that homeopathy is an evidence-based treatment," the select committee's report said.

In its response to the report, the Government said that it will keep the position on NHS funding under review. "However, we believe that providing appropriate information for patients should ensure that they form their own views regarding homeopathy as an evidence-based treatment," it said.

Scientists point out, however, that if patients are told clearly that there is no credible evidence to support homeopathic treatments, this may undermine the only benefit that homeopathy is likely to provide, namely the well-established "placebo effect" where someone feels and gets better because they believe a treatment is working.

"Doctors are not allowed to prescribe an honest placebo, even if they think that is the best they can do for the patient. But they are allowed to prescribe a dishonest placebo by referring the patient to a homeopath," said Professor David Colquhoun, a pharmacologist at University College London.

"Certainly you may feel better after the pill, because you were getting better anyway, or because of the placebo effect. That can't justify your doctor giving a pill that contains nothing whatsoever," Professor Colquhoun said.

"If there is no evidence that homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect, why does the Government pay for it? The answer given to that is 'patient choice'. I dare say the patient would cheer up if the NHS paid for a bottle of Chanel No 5," he said.

Professor Edzard Ernst, a specialist in complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, said: "If the Government is serious about putting patient choice over evidence, it not only displays a profound misunderstanding of both these issues but should then also give cream cakes to diabetics and cigarettes to someone with a lung disease."

Evan Harris, a former Liberal Democrat MP who sat on the science select committee when it carried out its inquiry, said that the decision to continue NHS funding homeopathy by the Government is not a good start for the health secretary Andrew Lansley.

"How does the Government justify allowing treatments that do not work to be provided by the NHS in the name of choice, when it allows medicines which do work to be banned from NHS use?" Dr Harris said.

Homeopathy in numbers

1796 The year in which a German physician called Samuel Hahnemann came up with the idea that "like cures like"



£4m Estimated amount spent on homeopathic treatments by the NHS each year



1,500 Approximate number of registered homeopaths in Britain



£150 Typical cost of an initial consultation with a homeopath



0% Usual amount of active ingredient contained in each homeopathic remedy

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Upper KS2 Primary Teacher in Bradford

    £21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Upper KS2 Primary Teacher...

    KS1 Float Teacher

    £90 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay : Randstad Education Southampton: ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Trainee Recruitmen...

    KS1 Primary Teacher in Bradford

    £21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: KS1 Primary Teacher in Br...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor