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Homeopathy victim of PCT funding cuts

By Nigel Praities

Homeopathy is becoming the highest profile victim of the Government's drive to promote cost-effective use of NHS resources, with PCTs across the country stopping funding for the controversial treatment.

A Pulse investigation into the services provided by 132 PCTs reveals only 37% still have contracts for homeopathic services. More than a quarter of trusts have stopped or reduced funding over the past two years, with many cancelling contracts with homeopathic hospitals. Only one PCT said it funded homeopathy as an extra service in primary care.

Homeopathy is highly contentious but remains popular in general practice, with a survey finding it was the second most used complementary treatment after acupuncture last year. But PCTs have come under acute pressure to divert funding away from homeopathy, with a group of experts writing an open letter to directors of commissioning in May 2006, saying the treatment caused ‘cultural and social damage' and was ‘unsupported by evidence'.

Homeopathic clinics in the UK are in crisis. Tunbridge Wells Homoeopathic Hospital in Kent has announced it will close and the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital is fighting for survival after eight trusts cancelled contracts over the past year, and a further six reduced referrals. Referrals to the hospital are down 20% in a year.

Professor Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, and a former homeopath himself, said he supported moves to withdraw funding for homeopathy as it was nothing more than a placebo. ‘There can be no cost-effectiveness without effectiveness,' he warned.

Dr Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance, said since the letter to PCTs, complementary therapies had been targeted in budget cuts by PCTs to reduce the NHS deficit. He said the future of homeopathy in primary care relied on practice-based commissioning. ‘In the fundholding years, the use of complementary medicine increased rapidly in the NHS, so we may well see the same again.'

Of 37 PCTs that responded, the majority would consider a PBC proposal for homeopathic services, although 28% would not or said such a proposal would be unlikely to succeed.

Dr Tim Robinson, a GP who provides a local homeopathic service in Dorset, said patients denied homeopathic treatments on the NHS might take risks by consulting non-medical practitioners. ‘They will have to pay someone and go to a non-doctor and there are potential risks with that,' he said.

Pulse conducted its investigation through the Freedom of Information Act, and enquiries to the Royal National Homoeopathic Hospital and Sense About Science.

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