The National Health Service should stop funding homeopathy, a Commons committee said today.
MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee said there was no evidence that the complementary medicine worked. To continue to do so risked harming patients who chose ineffective homeopathic remedies in place of effective orthodox medicines, diverted NHS funds from more effective treatments and undermined the principle that government funding in health should be evidence based.
Homeopathy is based on the idea that “like cures like” and uses highly diluted substances to trigger the body to heal itself. Millions of pounds worth of homeopathic remedies are sold by high street chemists and are also available through the NHS, but the committee concluded they were no more effective than placebo.
Even before the report was released today, the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health responded by claiming “militant scientists” who gave evidence to the committee had “left the patient out of their calculations”.
Dr Michael Dixon, medical director, admitted that homeopathy was “scientifically implausible” but said compassion and caring were being forgotten.
“The task of the NHS is to improve the health of the public and to treat those who are sick or disabled. We should not abandon patients we cannot help with conventional scientific medicine. If homeopathy is getting results for those patients, then of course we should continue to use it.”
The foundation called for controlled studies to compare the effectiveness and cost of homeopathy with other solutions for long-term conditions. But the Commons committee rejected the proposal on the grounds that scores of clinical trials had been conducted and failed to show a real effect (over and above placebo). Further trials could not be justified, the committee said.
Phil Willis, chair of the committee, said: “We fully understand someone taking a homeopathic remedy may feel better. But the weight of evidence showed it worked no better than placebo. If homeopathy works [better than placebo], the whole of chemistry and physics would have to be overturned. There has been enough testing.”
There are four homeopathic hospitals in the UK in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow and some GP practices also offer access to homeopathic treatment on the NHS. A fifth homeopathic hospital in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, closed last year after the West Kent primary care trust withdrew funding following a review which concluded it was not cost effective.
An estimated £4m a year is spent by the NHS on homeopathy, not including the running of the hospitals.
The report also criticised the licensing of products, such as Arnica Montana 30C, by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency which “actively misled” people into thinking it contained an active ingredient.