Her mother’s recent illness has got The Pharmacist’s reporter Léa Legraien thinking about whether NHS England’s guidance to stop prescribing homeopathy and other complementary medicines is fair
Walk through a room full of pharmacists and it will only take one mention of the ‘H word’ to spark a raging debate. That word? Homeopathy.
Medicines that lack substantial scientific evidence will always be controversial and homeopathy is no exception. I’ve never taken a stance on it myself – now I’m reconsidering my position.
The medical bodies are unanimous: NHS England, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Science and Technology Committee all believe there is no evidence that homeopathy is effective in treating ill health.
So what made me feel so strongly about this controversial topic?
Although she is only in her late forties, my mother recently found out she was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, which constantly causes her pain, swelling and stiffness in her joints.
She was prescribed no less than four medicines. I’ll let you imagine her anguish, as well as my own, when she started to experience symptoms such as tachycardia, renal problems and sight and hair loss after taking these drugs.
Medicines are meant to cure diseases or mitigate their symptoms – but what happens when they stop working and start being a greater threat to your wellbeing? Surely alternative treatments must be sought when drugs fail.
Eventually, my mother had no choice but stop taking all her prescribed medications at once. I know her to be a strong woman but couldn’t overcome the intense pain she experienced. Although it is not homeopathy, she chose to use another type of complementary medicine. She reckons it might be less effective than what she was initially prescribed, but is, in her opinion, more natural and less aggressive.
This month saw the end of the last NHS-funded homeopathic area in England. The NHS has vowed to stop funding the prescription of it, labelling it a ‘placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds’ that could ‘better be devoted to treatments that works.’
Data obtained last year through a freedom of information (FOI) request by a third party revealed that the NHS had spent at least £578,000 on prescribed homeopathy in the past five years, which equates to £115,600 per year.
What strikes me here is the NHS’s position on this amount of money being a ‘misuse of scarce funds’ when it can afford to pay its highest-paid doctors £740,000 a year.
According to the Society of Homeopaths, homeopathy is the second largest system of medicine in the world, used by more than 200 million people. Just like homeopathic remedies, the product my mother is taking might be controversial. But it works for her.
So does homeopathy work? For me, neither side – homeopathy supporters or its opponents – is wrong. Whether it has its place alongside medicine or should not be used depends on what individual people experience and believe.
I believe that if homeopathy and other complementary medicines do work or become a necessity for ill people, such as my mother, they should not be stopped from accessing treatment.
I also believe that if they don’t work or interfere with other medical treatments proven to be effective, people should resort to the hundreds, if not the thousands, of medicines available.
Instead of dismissing homeopathy through endless and brutal debates, why don’t we start focussing on what matters and works for the patient themselves?