You can’t get any homeopathy treatments on the NHS in the North of England anymore. The last NHS body in the region to supply funds, The Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said it would no longer spend money on alternative medicines such as snake oil and essence of poison ivy.
However, two major cities in England still pay for homeopathy, despite most other CCGs pulling funding over the past few years.
Homeopathy was invented in the 18th century based on the idea that “like cures like.” This is based on the theory that a medical problem can be counteracted by a substance that provokes similar symptoms. For example, if you had a rash, you could use poison ivy to treat it, or if you had a cold, then onion juice could be used because it also causes a runny nose and teary eyes.
These substances would be diluted with alcohol or distilled water, and then shaken in a process called succussion. There are several different levels of potency of remedies which are measured on something called a C scale, and these usually come in 6c or 30c over the counter. The number signifies the steps, where each step involves diluting one part medicine to 99 parts alcohol or water. In other words, some therapies are so diluted that they contain no molecules of the supposedly useful substance.
In 2010, a House of Commons report found that homeopathic remedies work no better than a placebo – a substance that has no effect, which is used as a comparison to drugs in trials – and that its principles are “scientifically implausible.”
Furthermore, reports published by The BMJ and the British Journal of Medical Practitioners came to the conclusion that these remedies should not be recommended to patients.
There are also ethical issues to consider, as some have argued that it is immoral to spend NHS funds on treatments that are unsupported by evidence, and also ethically wrong to provide people with treatments that just won’t make them better.
Just this week the FDA has started investigating the deaths of 10 children after they took homeopathic teething pills. So not only can these remedies be ineffective, they can actually also cause harm.
Nevertheless, around 10% of the UK population still uses homeopathic treatments according to a Commons Science and Technology report. That’s about 6 million people – or twice the population of Wales.
It looks like homeopathy is slowly but surely being filtered out of the NHS in the UK, but it might take a while before everyone is willing to give up their beliefs.
“We are delighted that NHS officials in Wirral have decided that precious NHS funds should be reserved for real treatments with a proven track record of efficacy, and we would like to to see these decisions mirrored by those remaining NHS trusts in Britain which still fund homeopathy,” said Pavan Dhaliwal, the director of public affairs at the British Humanist Association, who have been campaigning against state funding of homeopathy for a long time.
“By reinvesting these funds in patient care, staff time, and the availability of proven medicines and treatments, commissioning groups across the North of England have set a very strong example to the rest of the country by favouring evidence-based medicine over woo, superstition, and snake oil,” he added.