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Face-off: should the NHS fund homeopathic treatments?

Posted at 6:15 pm, May 6, 2012 in Arts & Entertainment

Face off: Homoeopathy on the NHSProfessor Edzard Ernst, who founded the School of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, has said recently that homeopathy is ‘biologically implausible’ and should not be offered on the NHS. We ask: Should the NHS fund homeopathic treatments?

Yes- Dr Sara Eames, president of the Faculty of Homeopathy, Luton

‘Homeopathy is a safe and cost- effective form of medicine which is used by fully trained doctors to treat approximately 200,000 patients a year in general practice and 40,000 in hospital. The hospital patients are all referred by their GPs or hospital consultant, often because they have not been helped by conventional medicine, have had intolerable side-effects or the orthodox treatment is not suitable for the individual patient. ‘There is growing evidence for homeopathy, with over 150 double- blind trials, far more of which are positive than negative. These trials are a “gold standard” in medicine and are specifically designed to cancel out the placebo effect. Outcome studies from the homeopathic hospitals show a high percentage of patients improving their main condition and overall wellbeing. Homeopathy can be safely combined with other treatments, and has massive potential to reduce NHS costs: the total expenditure on NHS homeopathy is less than a thousandth of 1 per cent of the NHS budget. So let’s stop this polarised argument, and discuss the responsible integration of different treatments to save money and help more patients.

No, Professor Edzard Ernst, Peninsula College of Medicine, Exeter

‘Homeopathy was invented in the pre-scientific area, 200 years ago. Perhaps this explains why its assumptions fly in the face of science: its first principle holds that “Like cures like”. In simple terms, this means that I can cure the runny eyes of a hayfever patient with a preparation from onions, because onions make our eyes water. The second principle holds that endless dilution renders a remedy not less but more effective. Ingredients in a typical remedy are 30 times diluted. For it to contain a single active molecule, a pill would have to have a diameter roughly equal to the distance between the Earth and the Sun.  ‘But the acid test for any therapy is whether it works for patients. Today, we have about 200 clinical trials of homeopathy. With such a number, it is not surprising that some are positive by pure chance. Yet the totality of this evidence is clearly negative and the most reliable of these studies fail to show that homeopathic remedies are more than placebos. If a treatment is clearly disproven, we should not have it on the NHS. If we waste our NHS funds on useless treatments, they will not be available for life-saving interventions. It should not come from taxpayers’ money.’

What do you think?

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