Rt Hon Andrew Lansley CBE MP,
Secretary of State for Health,
House of Commons,
London SW1A 0AA
25 June 2010
Dear Andrew Lansley
As you will be aware, members of the British Medical Association (BMA) are attempting to put pressure on the NHS to withdraw funding for homeopathy by putting forward a set of seven motions at the BMA Annual Representatives Conference (attached).
We understand that you have no role in the decision-making processes of the BMA, but, as a representative of the electorate, you do have a role in defending its interest in the NHS. 10% of people in the UK use homeopathy, but the NHS spends only only 0.001% of its budget on homeopathy. Were NHS spending to reflect actual demand it would spend 10,000 times as much on this therapeutic approach. Only 55,000 people obtain homeopathic treatment at the NHS homeopathic hospitals, so, whilst an unknown number of others are treated in local practices, the overwhelming majority of those using homeopathy are not only paying their full share of the funding of the NHS, but are having to pay for their actual medical treatment privately. This is an iniquity which you, as the Secretary of State for Health, should consider addressing.
One of the BMA motions alleges that homeopathy is expensive. Studies conducted within the NHS show that it is effective in chronic conditions where conventional treatments have failed. This shows that earlier and more widespread use of homeopathy could lead to significant savings for the NHS. Furthermore, in 2006 the NHS was paying about £2 billion dealing with the adverse effects of prescribed pharmaceutical drugs in addition to its £8.2 billion budget for medicines.[5,6] The current budget for medicines is £11 billion, so if the cost of treating the adverse effects has risen in proportion, it will now be £2.7 billion. In other words, the increase in this cost alone would be 60 times the total spending on homeopathy in the NHS. Far from being expensive, homeopathy offers the potential for huge savings within the NHS. As Secretary of State, you have the opportunity and the power to reap these benefits.
One spur for the motions at the BMA conference is the report of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in February 2010. This report was voted for by only three MPs, two of whom did not attend any of the hearings, whilst the third (Evan Harris) is not only an outspoken opponent of homeopathy, but has been supported by an organisation systematically campaigning against homeopathy and funded by pharmaceutical companies.[11,12,13,14] It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the report has attracted severe and detailed criticism for its inaccuracy, its highly partial use of the evidence, and its flawed arguments.[15,16,17] In this context, it is incumbent on you, as the Secretary of State, to put the record straight and to reject this report. The BMA motions indicate that such a rejection is urgently needed.
The BMA motions are a further indication that decisions about homeopathy in the NHS are increasingly being dominated by those who are not competent to assess this therapeutic approach. Within the BMA only those members who are trained to practise homeopathy are competent to assess its clinical value and the evidence for its efficacy and effectiveness. Within the NHS the same should be true, but the evidence gathered by H:MC21 suggests that decisions are being made by people who do not have the necessary qualifications. As the Secretary of State, you have the power to demand that NHS decision-makers demonstrate that they are fully competent before they decide to remove homeopathic treatment from routine use. Such an action is urgently needed if official policy is not to be eroded by prejudiced decisions at local level, influenced by actions such as the BMA motions.
We urge you to re-affirm the NHS commitment to homeopathy at this time. We also urge you to insist that NHS spending on homeopathy should better reflect the scale of its use by the UK electorate. Finally, we urge you to initiate serious research into the potential for homeopathy to save the NHS money, and the reasons why this potential is being ignored.
William Alderson, Chair, Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century (H:MC21)
The following reply was received:
Dear Mr Alderson
Thank you for your email of 25 June to Andrew Lansley about homeopathy in the NHS. I have been asked to reply on his behalf.
I appreciate the points that you make. However, I should explain that the British Medical Association is independent of the Government and I am therefore unable to comment on any of its activities.
As you are aware, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recently carried out an examination of the evidence to support the provision of homeopathy on the NHS.
The report from the Committee was published on 22 February and the new Government will now consider its findings and recommendations. Ministers will provide a full response in due course and will make that response available publicly.
As a new Government, Ministers will be reviewing priorities very carefully. I hope you will appreciate that the Department of Health is unable to make any commitment regarding future policy on this issue at this stage.
Edward Corbett, Customer Service Centre , Department of Health