Homeopathy is a 'misuse of scarce funds' health officials had ruled
The NHS is still spending more than £55,000 per year on homeopathic remedies – despite doctors being told to stop prescribing them.
Last night health officials said they would be asking the Government to “blacklist” such drugs, so that NHS funds could never again be spent on them.
In 2017, NHS England issued guidance instructing doctors not to hand out prescriptions for homeopathic treatments, which chief executive Simon Stevens described as “at best a placebo” and “a misuse of scarce NHS funds”.
But newly-released data shows doctors handed out nearly 3,300 prescriptions for “homeopathic preparations” last year, costing the NHS a total of £55,044.
Prof David Colquhoun, emeritus professor of pharmacology at University College London, said the number of prescriptions being made out, in apparent defiance of the current guidelines, was “extraordinarily high”.
NHS England’s guidance, issued in November 2017 as part of a drive to save £141 million a year, aimed to phase out prescriptions for 18 treatments deemed to be of “low clinical effectiveness”, including homeopathy.
It said GPs should not make out new prescriptions for homeopathic preparations and should be “supported in de-prescribing” the treatments from patients already receiving them.
NHS England’s review concluded there was “no clear or robust evidence to support the use of homeopathy” and there were no routine exceptions to its advice.
The NHS was spending £92,000 a year on around 6,820 prescriptions for homeopathic remedies when it pledged to stop funding them.
Following the announcement, official figures for 2017 showed the number of prescriptions dropped by a quarter on the previous year to around 5,100 and spending fell by 32 per cent to £63,000.
But the latest statistics show that, while the number of prescriptions issued last year dropped by a further 35 per cent to 3,295, the cost to the NHS only reduced by 13 per cent.
The £55,000 annual bill for prescribing homeopathic remedies is equivalent to more than two full-time nurse salaries.
Why is the NHS under so much pressure?
Commenting on the latest figures, Prof Colquhoun said: “The NHS England guidance was very clear – there is zero benefit from homeopathy.
“It is astonishing that doctors are continuing to prescribe homeopathic treatments, apparently in a direct contradiction of this guidance.
“While the cost is relatively small [compared to the whole NHS budget], it seems ridiculous that anyone is still prescribing them at all.”
He said patients who were “true believers” in homeopathy should be advised to fund the treatments themselves.
A High Court judge upheld NHS England’s decision to stop funding homeopathic remedies in June last year, after a case was brought against it by the British Homeopathic Association (BHA).
Last night, BHA chief executive Cristal Sumner said: “We are not surprised to hear that GPs are still prescribing homeopathy. As we made clear in our legal challenge to NHS England, many doctors recognise the benefits of homeopathy for their patients.
“Homeopathy costs relatively little, can be used for acute and chronic conditions, [and] has no side effects… It is time for the NHS to encourage more homeopathy to be prescribed, not less.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS has issued guidance making it clear to GPs that homeopathy should not be prescribed, and to give further legal force to this we will now be formally requesting that the Department of Health blacklist it so that funds cannot be wasted in this way."
NHS Prescriptions for homeopathic preparations
2018: 3,295 / £55,044
2017: 5,105 / £63,124
2016: 6,821 / £92,412
2015: 8,894 / £94,313
2014: 10,238 / £110,438
Source: NHS Digital