May 9, 2011 A bioethics expert from the University of Abertay Dundee has denounced the public funding of homeopathy at a time where Scotland's health budget is under unprecedented pressure. Writing in the journal Bioethics, Dr Kevin Smith says that Homeopathy is 'ethically unacceptable' and should be 'actively rejected' by healthcare and education providers.
Despite heavy criticism from the medical community including the British Medical Association, homeopathic treatments continue to be available on the NHS. Last year a BBC programme, 'Magic or Medicine -- Homeopathy and the NHS', reported that the NHS in Scotland spent around £1.5m per year on homeopathy -- almost a third of the estimated £4m spent each year in the UK. Scottish GPs were found to be prescribing 10 times as many homeopathic medicines per patient as their English counterparts.
Dr Smith said: "The NHS in Scotland is spending far more per person on homeopathic treatments than in the rest of the UK and now in particular, in times where finances are stretched to breaking point and funding for vital services is at risk, this is incredible."
Dr Smith argues that in addition wasting valuable resources, government funding gives credibility to homeopathy, which puts patients at risk. "NHS funding for homeopathy legitimises it and suggests a scientific basis, the risk is then that people will avoid effective medicine, potentially damaging their health. The same applies to education providers running homeopathy courses," he said.
Supporters of homeopathy argue that if the patient feels a placebo effect then there is still benefit to the patient. Dr Smith refutes this saying: "If placebo effect is the only form of benefit, then you're effectively lying to the patient and going against a core principle of medical ethics -- that patients must have all the information available to give fully informed consent."
Dr Smith's article comes as the axe continues to hang over Scotland's only homeopathic hospital -- Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. Future funding has not been confirmed and NHS Highland has already announced that it will no longer be commissioning services from the facility.
"Homeopathy is utterly implausible. Homeopathic preparations are so thoroughly diluted that they contain no significant amounts of active ingredients, and thus can have no effects on the patient's body. So it is hardly unsurprising that, despite a large number of studies having been conducted, there's no convincing evidence to support claims of effectiveness for homeopathy. Those who believe it works either do not understand the science, or are simply deluded. It is important to realise that homeopathy is not ethically neutral; it is wasteful and potentially dangerous, and conflicts with fundamental ethical principles. I argue that those involved with healthcare have a moral duty to take an active stance against homeopathy. For example, those responsible for healthcare funding should act to ensure that scare NHS resources are not allocated to the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. Indeed, the closure of this facility would be welcome on ethical grounds."
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- Kevin Smith. Against Homeopathy - A Utilitarian Perspective. Bioethics, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2010.01876.x
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