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700 GPs prescribed homeopathy in a year

Homeopathy has been prescribed by 700 GPs over the last year, according to new research into prescribing figures.

According to research by academics from Oxford University 5,975 homeopathic items were prescribed in England between July 2016 and July 2017, racking up a £77,921 bill.

They were amongst a list of 19 items branded ‘low priority’ by NHS England highlighted by a new tool on . The combined bill for the items was £180 million last year.

The tool developed by Dr Ben Goldacre and colleagues in the EBM DataLab at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences uses data from NHS Digital and looks at prescribing patterns for CCGs and individual practices.

The figures follow NHS England’s plan to ban prescribing homeopathy. 

The researchers found that use of the 19 low value items declined over the last year, with the exception of fentanyl immediate release, lidocaine plasters and tadalafil once daily. 

They concluded: ‘Costs have recently risen very dramatically for some of these treatments (coproxamol, liothyronine and trimipramine), making the cost per prescription very high. Importantly, a large proportion of practices avoid many of these treatments altogether. This suggests that complete avoidance of these 19 low-priority treatments is clinically and practically feasible and achievable, in many cases.’ 

Dr Goldacre said: ‘We think it’s good for everyone to be able to see what GP practices are prescribing.’

He added it helped to highlight how resources are being spent.

‘It gives everyone the power to scrutinise prescribing at their own GP practice and explore how they’re responding to changes in clinical evidence – and price – given the finite resources available to the NHS.’

Dr Goldacre said that homeopathy was still prescribed at least once last year by 700 practices, despite the lack of evidence base for its value except as a placebo.

In 2010, Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee recommended: ‘The Government should stop allowing the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.’

The analysis also looked at spending on co-proxamol, which was withdrawn in 2005 when it cost £1.05 a pack.

Prescriptions at £115 a pack cost NHS England more than £7.6 million over the last year.

‘Each of the 19 treatments termed “low priority” by NHS England represent possible waste in our health service, due to either a lack of good-quality evidence for their safety and effectiveness, or because there’s a cheaper alternative,’ said Dr Goldacre.