NHS England has gone ahead with its decision to ban homeopathic prescriptions in primary care despite questions over the consultation process itself and the evidence put forward by a range of organisations and most importantly patients.
It seems that when these consultations are undertaken organisations like NHS England and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) place as much, if not more regard to those who object to homeopathy in principle, because they regard the evidence as weak or because they say the mechanism is implausible, above the views and experiences of patients who have used it successfully and doctors who prescribe it. That is wrong.
The NHS is supposed to have patients at its heart, it’s written in the Constitution, yet many feel marginalised, especially when it comes to complementary and natural medicines.
Worryingly, NHS England does not seem to be able to say what treatment patients who currently receive homeopathic prescriptions will be given instead, and what the cost of that will be. If this is an exercise aimed at saving the NHS money, then surely there needs to be a basic calculation of what that saving will be. Until NHS England outlines what the net saving will be by banning homeopathic prescriptions then this decision looks more like one based on dogmatism rather than any genuine attempt to save the NHS money or improve patient outcomes.
The British Homeopathic Association is still going ahead with its legal challenge calling for a judicial review of NHS England’s consultation and we look forward to monitoring developments.
The Charity Commission consultation took place between 13th March and 19th May 2017, as part of its review of how it decides whether organisations that use or promote complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies are charities.
It received over 670 written responses, apparently far in excess of the number usually received for one of its consultations.
The Charity Commission has reported that it is continuing to progress the review of its existing policy in respect of the registration of CAM organisations, and says that the review will result in a decision as to whether the current approach to CAM should be changed, and if so, what changes should be made.
It says that the outcome will be determined by the Commission’s own review of its current policy, having considered the responses received to this consultation, in conjunction with other information it may gather assessed against the legal framework governing charitable status.
It is expected that the Charity Commission will publish its conclusions in the first half of 2018, and we will be watching closely.
During Parliamentary Health Questions on 14th November, Health Minister Steve Brine MP said, “It is the responsibility of local NHS organisations to make decisions on the commissioning and funding of any healthcare treatments for NHS patients, such as and including homoeopathy. Complementary and alternative medicine treatments can, in principle, feature in a range of services offered by local NHS organisations, including general practitioners.”
This seems to be a reasonable position, and entirely consistent with the one taken by the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt MP in Health Select Committee in December 2014, where he said “…with respect to whether or not an individual patient receives that kind of treatment, in the end that is a matter for their GP to do. There are GPs who prescribe homoeopathy and GPs who prescribe acupuncture, but the system we have is that we allow GPs to decide whatever they think is in the clinical interests of their own patients.”
Why then do we have a situation where most patients cannot access these services? The Government says, in principle, that they can, and patients themselves want to if surveys are to be believed. What is going on inside NHS England and Clinical Commissioning Groups that is preventing Government policy translating into patient services? Why do patients feel that their voices are being silenced?
Thousands of patients, organisations and therapists are voicing their opposition to NHS England’s proposal to ban homeopathy and herbal medicine. An online Parliamentary Petition has already received almost 17,000 signatures at the time of writing this article. The Government was obliged to respond at 10,000 signatures, and at 100,000 a Parliamentary debate could follow. The petition, which calls on NHS England to rethink these proposals, can be signed by following the link below: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/200154
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare (PGIH) is set to publish a comprehensive report on integrated healthcare towards the start of 2018. The PGIH called for submissions to the Inquiry at the start of 2017 and is currently compiling the report based on the submissions. It will look at a range of issues including the current healthcare landscape and CAM, access and delivery, research and evidence, and opportunities post Brexit.