BMA meeting: BMA representatives vote to ban homoeopathy from the NHS

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 30 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3513
  1. Deborah Cohen
  1. 1Brighton

    Homoeopathic hospitals and remedies should not be funded on the NHS, given the absence of valid scientific evidence of benefit, voted representatives at the BMA’s annual conference in Brighton this week.

    They also voted that no UK training post should include a placement in homoeopathy and that pharmacists should remove homoeopathic remedies from their shelves indicating they are drugs: they should place them on shelves clearly labelled “placebos.”

    About 50 pro-homoeopathy protestors gathered outside the Brighton conference centre to urge representatives to support the provision of homoeopathy on the NHS. Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, also said that members had written in to say that debating homoeopathy was outside the remit of the BMA and that it would threaten their livelihood.

    In a debate at the BMA junior doctors’ conference in May one delegate, Tom Dolphin, had caused controversy by likening homoeopathy to witchcraft. He then apologised to witches, who were “apparently offended by the association with homoeopathy.”

    “It is pernicious nonsense that threatens the hard won gains of the Enlightenment and the scientific method,” he said. “Let’s stop wasting scarce NHS money on something with plenty of evidence to show it does not work.”

    However, other representatives pointed out that much of what doctors do lacks a scientific evidence base. David Shipstone, a urologist from the East Midlands, said that although it was a commonsense motion you could replace homoeopathy with many other interventions. “Paucity of evidence does not prove a lack of efficacy,” he said.

    But others pointed to the hundreds of clinical trials that demonstrated no effect of homoeopathic treatments over placebo, pointing to a meta-analysis in the Lancet (2005;366:726-32, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67177-2).

    “People outside tell me that homoeopathy does not lend itself to randomised controlled trials. Well, I can see it would be hard to distinguish between two placebos,” said Dr Dolphin.

    While those speaking for the removal of NHS funding tended to focus on the lack of scientific evidence, those speaking against the motion spoke of the needs of patients.

    John Garner, a GP in Edinburgh who helped to write a Scottish Department of Health report on complementary medicine and the NHS, said that even though there is a big push for evidence based medicine, not all symptoms fit into an evidence base. He said that patients had intractable headaches and chronic pain even though there was no obvious pathology.

    “Some find benefit in homoeopathy,” he said, adding that he did not want to risk alienating those patients if their symptoms change.

    Paddy Glackin, a GP in London, said that GPs employ the placebo effect all the time. He cautioned against scientific “fundamentalism,” saying that lots of his patients go to the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital. “Without that, I don’t know what to do with them,” he said.

    But Mary McCarthy, a GP from Shropshire, who proposed the motion, said that homoeopathy can actually cause harm by diverting patients away from conventional medicine. She pointed to a high profile case in Australia where parents of a child had been jailed for the manslaughter of their baby after they chose homoeopathic remedies rather than conventional medicine.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3513