The government's forthcoming consultation on whether homeopathy should remain available on the NHS is "overdue", the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has said.
Life sciences minister George Freeman said the government is "considering whether or not homeopathic products should be available through NHS prescriptions”.
Rising health demands mean the government has “a duty to make sure we spend NHS funds on the most effective treatments”, Mr Freeman said last Friday (November 13). It expects to launch the consultation "in due course", he added.
Anthony Cox, RPS board member and University of Birmingham deputy head of pharmacy, said retaining homeopathy on the NHS gives the treatment method "a credibility it does not deserve, even internationally where it can cause real harm".
"While there has been a reduction in this wasteful use of NHS resources, the use of homeopathy in the NHS more widely has continued," he said. The RPS launched its own consultation on the treatment method in September, and Dr Cox said this would help the society to have "a more consistent approach across both the NHS and pharmacy practice".
"Very positive news"
Pro-science charity Good Thinking, which has been lobbying the government to "blacklist" homeopathic remedies from the NHS, said the announcement of the consultation is “very positive news”.
Although it is easier for the government "not to upset" homeopaths, it is important that it stops "wasting money on things that clearly don't work", Good Thinking founder Simon Singh told C+D.
Faculty of Homeopathy president Helen Beaumont described the launch of a “costly consultation” as a “disappointing” decision that could “prevent highly skilled clinicians prescribing a course of treatment that benefits thousands of patients a year”.
If the Department of Health is "serious about saving money", it should turn its attention to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), she said. These are prescribed to "thousands" of patients with mild to moderate depression, despite studies showing them to be "ineffective for these conditions", she claimed.
According to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, more than 10,000 homeopathic preparations were dispensed by the NHS in 2014, with a total net ingredient cost of £110,400.