The Department of Health has announced a consultation on whether homeopathic medicines should be prohibited from the National Health Service (NHS). The consultation is proposed for 2016.

What is homeopathy and is it regulated?

Homeopathy is described as holistic, complementary or alternative medicine. Whilst the practice of homeopathy is not itself regulated, doctors and any other regulated professionals who prescribe homeopathic treatments are bound by the rules and standards which govern their profession.

In addition, homeopathic products sold as remedies or medicines are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA). MHRA operates two regulatory schemes from homeopathic medicines.

Unregulated homeopaths may not be medically qualified.

The remit of the Faculty of Homeopathy (the Faculty) is to ensure ‘the highest of standards in homeopathic education and practice’. Membership of the Faculty is open to those who are statutorily registered healthcare professionals. For example, a doctor who wishes to join the Faculty must hold current registration with the General Medical Council. Membership of the Faculty also requires postgraduate training in homeopathy.

Current views on homeopathy

Current opinion on whether homeopathy is beneficial is divided. Dr Helen Beaumont (GP) President of the Faculty of Homeopathy states as follows in response to the proposed consultation:

“It’s disappointing that at a time when the NHS is facing a funding crisis the Department of Health (DH) is embarking on a costly consultation that could prevent highly skilled clinicians prescribing a course of treatment that benefits thousands of patients each year. If the DH were serious about saving money surely it should be looking at SSRIs, prescribed for mild to moderate depression in vast quantities at considerable cost to the NHS, but which studies have found to be ineffective for those conditions?”

The NHS website states as follows in relation to homeopathy:

“There has been extensive investigation of the effectiveness of homeopathy. There is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition".

Possible ramifications of the consultation

It should be noted that any decision stemming from the consultation will not prohibit people buying homeopathic treatments over the counter or privately.

If the outcome of the consultation is that homeopathic medicines are to be prohibited from the NHS, they will be added to Schedule 1 of the National Health Service (General Medical Services Contracts) (Prescription of Drugs etc) Regulations 2004. Schedule 1 sets out the drugs, medicines and other substances which are not to be ordered under a general medical services contract. This would mean that hospitals and General Practitioners (GP) alike will not be permitted to prescribe any homeopathic medicine which is listed in Schedule 1 on the NHS.

Commentary

It will be interesting to watch the developments in this area, as whatever the outcome of the consultation, there will be effects for clinicians and patients alike.

Many are concerned that prohibiting the prescription of homeopathic medicines from the NHS will affect the choices patients have for common conditions such as asthmas, hay fever and high blood pressure. Others welcome the consultation on two premises; there is no strict regulation of homeopathic practitioners in the United Kingdom and two, the NHS cannot afford to spend money on medicines which have not strictly proven to be effective.