Early Day Motion 1240: NHS Homeopathic hospitals
The motion stated:
- "That this House welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals; notes that some six million people use complementary treatments each year; believes that complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome; expresses concern that NHS cuts are threatening the future of these hospitals; and calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets."
- Early Day Motion 1240: NHS Homeopathic hospitals at parliament.uk
- Early Day Motion 1240: NHS Homeopathic Hospitals at edms.org.uk
Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine, first proposed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, that treats patients with heavily diluted preparations which are thought to cause effects similar to the symptoms presented. Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking, which homeopaths term "succussion," after each dilution under the assumption that this increases the effect of the treatment. Homeopaths call this process "potentization". Dilution often continues until none of the original substance remains.
Homeopathy has been the subject of much analysis. A review of the reviews of homeopathic studies has been made by Terence Hines (2003: 360-362). He reviewed Taylor et al. (2000), Wagner (1997), Sampson and London (1995), Kleijen, Knipschild, and ter Riet (1991), and Hill and Doyon (1990). More than 100 studies have failed to come to any definitive positive conclusions about homeopathic potions. Ramey (2000) notes that
- Homeopathy has been the subject of at least 12 scientific reviews, including meta-analytic studies, published since the mid-1980s....[And] the findings are remarkably consistent:....homeopathic "remedies" are not effective.
The use of homeopathy has been condemned by the World Health Organisation. When doctors complained that homeopathy was being promoted as a treatment for diarrhoea in children, a spokesman for the WHO department of child and adolescent health and development said: "We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit".
Homeopathy and the NHS
Despite the lack of clinical evidence, homeopathy remains a popular complementary therapy and it is available on the NHS. In the UK, there are several NHS homeopathic hospitals and some GP practices also offer homeopathic treatment. Homeopathy is also practised privately.
Unlike doctors, nurses, and other conventional healthcare professionals, homeopaths do not have to be registered with a regulatory body. The ‘Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council’ is a voluntary organisation which practitioners can register with, but they do not have to.
There is little concern that properly prepared homeopathic remedies are harmful in themselves as homeopathic remedies do not contain any ingredients: they are usually just water or sugar pills. However, a reliance on homeopathy can lead to a patient avoiding appropriate treatment. This has led to complications and even deaths among users of homeopathy.
According to Sense About Science, "Homeopathy works as a placebo. This causes two problems at prescription, First, the ethics of modern medical care demand that the relationship between the patient and the clinician should be based on honesty, respect, openness and trust. Prescribing placebos would require the doctor to lie to the patient. Second, prescribing placebos is a shortcut that tends to tackle the symptoms of the disease, rather than the disease itself".
Sense About Science investigated claims that homeopaths had been giving dangerous information to consumers about malaria prevention. An undercover reporter asked for advice about anti-malarial preparations before going on a trip to a malaria-infested country. In ten out of ten cases, homeopaths recommended homeopathic products without suggesting that the person also consult a GP.
There is also the problem of adulteration by unscrupulous dealers, especially with remedies from abroad or purchased from abroad via the Internet. The lack of proper regulation means that homeopathy, as with other alternative medical practises, can be a magnet for charlatans.
Responses from signatories to Homeopathy motion
Journalist Tom Whipple wrote to each of the MPs who signed the motion requesting evidence used in deciding to support the statement. Fewer than half replied, but Mr Whipple published the responses on his blog. He accompanied this with an article summarising the responses which was published in the Guardian in November 2007.
- Sugar-coated solutions: Politicians who lend their support to homeopathy advocates are doing a disservice to science - Tom Whipple (Guardian)
- Homeopathic Motions - (blog posting)
List of signatories
The motion was signed by 206 MPs.
1 = MPs who replied to Tom Whipple's request for positive evidence on the use of homeopathy.
2 = MPs who replied to constituents' emails regarding their support of the motion.