The British Medical Association (BMA) has told a BBC Scotland investigation that NHS Scotland should pull the plug on Glasgow's Homoeopathic Hospital. Freedom of Information requests (FoIs) revealed the Scottish NHS spends about £1.5m on homeopathy, almost a third of the estimated UK spend of £4m. But the BMA said the money should be withdrawn until the Glasgow facility produces satisfactory evidence about the effectiveness of its treatments.
Homoeopaths and their patients insist they see real benefits from treatments. However, the BMA's director of science and ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: "The funding of the homoeopathic hospital should stop until and unless they can pull an evidence base to say which patients they are going to be able to help and where that help is more than the placebo effect." When asked about the reaction of patients, she said there was no justification for treating patients with medicines the BMA believes have no evidence of efficacy. She added: "If there's no evidence but they are being told that there is evidence, then the question is what is actually happening to those patients? Are they really having a proper choice?"
The programme, Magic or Medicine - Homoeopathy and the NHS, has also uncovered evidence that the NHS in Scotland is spending far more per person on homeopathy than its English counterpart. It found that GPs are prescribing at least 10 times as many homoeopathic medicines per person as their colleagues in England. FoIs for the programme revealed that NHS Scotland spent about £1.5m on homoeopathy - almost a third of the estimated UK spend of £4m. Dr James McLay, a pharmacologist in Aberdeen, has researched the extent of homoeopathic prescribing and said the figures were very worrying. He told the programme: "We are duty bound as doctors to use proven evidence-based medicine. Homoeopathy is not proven and it's not evidence-based, and that is a concern."
Spending on homoeopathy in the English NHS has been shrinking, with many funders withdrawing NHS cash altogether. There is no indication that this is happening in Scotland. FoI requests established that about half of Scotland's 14 health boards provided some funding for the discipline. Homoeopaths and their patients point to the fact that the sums of money are small, and insist that they see real benefits from their treatments. Carol Montgomery, a patient who was treated with homoeopathy on the NHS, said it had cured her anxiety and other health problems. She urged other patients to give the alternative therapy a chance. "It worked for me," she said. "And I would say to other people if you have problems don't knock it, try it, because it won't do you any harm, if it doesn't do you any good."
Magic or Medicine - Homoeopathy and the NHS will be shown on BBC One Scotland on Monday, 13 September at 1930 BST.