The recent news that homeopathy is to be removed from the NHS saving millions is very misleading. First of all it is not homeopathy it is homeopathy prescriptions, and secondly it will not save millions it will save around £90k. The media love a good headline – even if that means distorting the facts says Mani Norland, Principal of the School of Homeopathy, Stroud.
Removing homeopathy prescriptions from the NHS is short sighted, as you are taking medicine away from people that need it. If patients cannot get the homeopathy prescriptions they rely on then they may turn back to other more expensive drugs, costing the NHS far more money in the long run.
The reason given for removing homeopathy prescriptions from the NHS is a lack of evidence, but there is sound evidence of homeopathy’s effectiveness.
For example; by the end of 2014, 189 randomised controlled trials of homeopathy on 100 different medical conditions had been published in peer-reviewed journals. Of these, 104 were placebo-controlled and were therefore eligible for detailed review.
41% were positive (43 trials), finding that homeopathy was effective
5% were negative (5 trials), finding that homeopathy was ineffective
54% were inconclusive (50 trials).
In addition, there have been six meta-analyses of homeopathy (large scale overviews of all previous research).
One meta-analysis was negative, concluding that homeopathy had no effect beyond placebo. Five were positive suggesting that there was evidence of an effect beyond placebo, but that more high quality research would be needed to reach definitive conclusions. The most recent of these studies, published in 2014, found that homeopathic medicines, when prescribed during individualised treatment, are 1.5-2.0 times more likely to have a beneficial effect than placebo.
With regards to the effectiveness of conventional medicine, things are not as clear cut as many people may believe. Every six months, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) publishes the scientific clinical evidence for treatments currently available on the NHS. This study found that of 3,000 commonly used NHS treatments 50% are of unknown effectiveness and only 11% are proven to be beneficial. See chart.
SSRI anti-depressants, such as Prozac, are an example of such a treatment. These have now been confirmed as being no more effective than placebo in the treatment of mild and moderate depression, yet in 2006 the NHS spent around £150 million on them.
The BMJ data clearly shows that the NHS funds many treatments for which the evidence of effectiveness is unclear - see chart.
Medical research is a costly and involved undertaking that is generally funded by large pharmaceutical companies, charities, trusts and governments. Millions of pounds are involved in drug development, which is usually recouped through licensing the drugs. As homeopathic medicines are derived from natural sources, they cannot be patented; without the financial returns that patents help to provide, it is more difficult to find companies willing to invest in homeopathic research. This is unfortunate, given that homeopathy has the potential to be a safe, effective and inexpensive complement to conventional health care.
Funding for research into other Complementary and Alternative Medicines has been steadily growing with promising results. Professor George Lewith (professor of Health Research at the University of South Hampton) and others have received Government funding for their work.
The homeopathic profession encourages more research into homeopathy. However, the funding required for high quality research into homeopathy is not available in the UK at this time.
The Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI) is an international charity created to address the need for high quality scientific research in homeopathy. In collaboration with the Carstens Foundation, the HRI website provides a clinical research database that contains over 1015 studies, from randomised controlled trials to observational studies. It is the most comprehensive and academically rigorous database of its kind in the world.
In the current climate, where misinformation about homeopathy in the mainstream media is common, there is a need for clear communication of the facts about the evidence base for homeopathy. HRI therefore aims to provide decision-makers, academics, healthcare practitioners and patients with reliable, academically sound information about homeopathy research.
In 2013 and 2015 the HRI held international conferences dedicated to research in homeopathy. Both events had around 40 speakers, including clinicians, PhDs and Professors from around the world.
The campaign to remove homeopathy prescriptions from the NHS has been instigated by a small lobby group lead by a well-known ‘sceptic’ of homeopathy. This group made a legal challenge to the Department of Health. Why are policy makers and health professionals allowing themselves to be influenced by a biased agenda-led lobby group? This is not being driven by clinicians, patient choice, research or economics. With 15% of the UK population (27% of Germans, 40% of French) using homeopathy - why is the demand not for more research into homeopathy, rather than less provision?