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Doctors vote against NHS homeopathy

Doctors have voted overwhelmingly in favour of removing homeopathic treatments from the NHS.

A British Medical Association (BMA) conference voted against the continuation of homeopathy on the health service and called for the financial support of four UK homeopathic hospitals to be removed.

Despite being a treatment option on the NHS since it was first introduced in 1948, homeopathy has courted controversy in the medical profession for its lack of scientific credibility which renders it on par with placebo treatments in terms of effectiveness.

Health professionals say the practice of heavy dilution renders any potential medical qualities within homeopathic treatments useless and as a result, they have no place on a taxpayer-funded NHS.

The conference said homeopathic remedies should be taken off pharmacy shelves where traditional medicines are sold and should be labelled as "placebos" rather than "medicines".

The vote follows calls made by MPs in February demanding homeopathy to be taken off the NHS, claiming the funding of such treatments could not be justified to the taxpayer given the scant scientific evidence for their usefulness.

They also lobbied the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to ban homeopathic remedies from carrying medical claims on their labels.

However, former Labour MP Ian Stewart spoke out against the three to one vote in favour of banning the remedies, claiming the committee had failed to acknowledge that despite the lack of traditional scientific proof, homeopathic remedies did work for some people.

Advocates of the remedies say the amount of money spent by the NHS on homeopathy - thought to be in the region of £4 million a year - was negligible and that even a success rate similar to that of a placebo would make it value for money.

Copyright © Press Association 2010

British Medical Association

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I read with some sadness the apparent demise of NHS-funded homoeopathy. I have used homoeopathic remedies successfully for myself for liver problems and polymalgia symptoms and for 2 of my children for eczema symptoms, with considerable success, and from medically qualified professionals. I am aware of the controversy surrounding homoeopathy, based on the lack of RCT-based evidence but my understanding is that it is difficult to conduct such trials on a sufficiently powered basis as remedies are tailored to individual symptoms and not with a "one size fits all" approach" - Fiona McLeod, Aberdeen

"I have been trained by the Faculty Of Homeopathy in Glasgow and have helped people with eczema and urine infections. I believe it has worked. The Faculty consists of highly trained Doctors and Health Professionals who still believe in the efficacy of conventional medicine but believe that homeopathy complements it well. Are we all deluded?" - Francis Connor, Liverpool

"I started seeing a specialist GP who specialises in homoeopathy earlier this year due to severe allergies. Being a nurse researcher I was rather sceptical but I have been truly amazed by how effective homoeopathy has been for me. I do not see any way in which my hayfever symptoms and reduced histamine response in general could have reduced merely in response to a placebo. Homoeopathy can work. Since using it my repeat prescriptions have decreased from a list of 17 to a list of 3 - a saving incurred to the NHS. Yes, this is just anecdotal evidence but good quality RCTs are hard to generate as the climate towards homoeopathy is so cold that research committees do not pass these trials and so the evidence can not be gleaned! Is it not better for homoeopathy to be regulated by GPs who promote a balanced attitude between homoeopathy and medicine rather than run by external, less qualified non-professionals who do deter people from safe treatments?" - Karen, Manchester

"It is mind-boggling that only now is NHS funding of homeopathy being questioned! Why did it ever start? Like any other proposed treatment, NHS or otherwise, surely it should only be used if suitably tested. Indeed, I thought that NICE already insisted on such for any NHS medicines. Homeopathy hospitals sound downright dangerous! Placebos can, of course, have a beneficial effect. In which case, why does the NHS not produce their own brand of homeopathic drugs? This can be done for the price of the bottle. How about a free refill if you bring your own bottle? NHS could sell prescription and non-prescription versions. The former would, of course, be more powerful. Conversely, are commercial producers ever inspected to check that they produce their products "properly"? Are they allowed just to fill their bottles from the tap, as long as they convincingly conceal the fact, so as to retain the placebo effect?" - John Newbury, Solihull, UK