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Government defends right to homeopathy on the NHS

By Ian Quinn

The Government has strongly rejected demands by MPs for the funding of homeopathy on the NHS to be withdrawn, claiming it would fly in the face of patient choice and local decision-making.

In its response to a report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which issued a damning verdict on the practice and called for GPs to be barred from referring patients under the NHS, the Department of Heath said it would not be stepping in - despite MPs' concerns over the lack of evidence and regulation of homeopathic treatments.

MPs had called not only for doctors to be barred from referring patients to homeopathic hospitals or homeopaths, but for the MHRA to intervene and to apply the same standards of regulation as for medicines, which they said would remove any medical claim supporters of homeopathy had.

But in its response on Monday the DH said: ‘It is not appropriate for the Department of Health to remove the right of PCTs to make these decisions on a case-by-case basis.'

‘Capital investment decisions in the NHS are planned and decided at local level. The commissioning plans of local PCTs set out the type of services that need to be provided and therefore drive decisions about the nature of new facilities needed, or the need to maintain, update or replace existing facilities.'

The committee had also called for an investigation into the cost of homeopathy to the NHS and for new research into the evidence-base for homeopathy, but this too was rejected.

MPs had wanted regulators to ‘remove any medical claim and any implied endorsement of efficacy by the MHRA' by ensuring the same evidence of efficacy used to assess conventional medicines was used, but the Government said this would potentially deal a fatal blow to the homeopathy market and limit consumer choice.

‘Homeopathy has a long tradition in Europe and is a recognised and widely used system of medicine across the EU,' it said.

‘The Government takes the view that consumers who choose to use homeopathic medicines should be fully informed about their purpose and assured that standards of quality and safety are maintained. If homeopathic medicines were not subject to any kind of regulatory control consumers would not have access to such information or assurances.'

'Conversely, if regulation was applied to homeopathic medicines as understood in the context of conventional pharmaceutical medicines, these products would have to be withdrawn from the market as medicines. This would constrain consumer choice and, more importantly, risk the introduction of unregulated, poor quality and potentially unsafe products on the market to satisfy consumer demand.'

However the campaign group Sense About Science hit out at the Department of Health's ruling.

'The Government has ignored the Committee's detailed consideration of the licensing of homeopathic products as medicines,' it said in a statement.

'It has acknowledged that "there will be an assumption that if the NHS is offering homeopathic treatments then they will be efficacious" and that homeopathic products can be licensed with no requirement for evidence that they treat any condition at all. However, the Government has put forward a weak point about ‘patient choice' instead of considering what to do about these problems. At a time when PCTs are reviewing expenditure on ineffective treatments, this is perverse.'

'We urge them to go back and give proper consideration to this part of the Committee's report. In the meantime, we recommend a warning on the label of homeopathic products telling people that the product is licensed without any evidence that it works.'


The Government has strongly rejected demands by MPs for the funding of homeopathy on the NHS to be withdrawn The Government has strongly rejected demands by MPs for the funding of homeopathy on the NHS to be withdrawn