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Health: Homeopathy

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2007

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lady Mar and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question:

Whether the document Homeopathic Services, which was sent to primary care trusts during May 2007, was issued with the knowledge and approval of the Department of Health; and, if not, what authority the document has.

My Lords, our inquiries, which are continuing, indicate that the document was not issued with either the knowledge or the approval of the Department of Health. Decisions on commissioning or funding treatments are a local matter. NHS providers need to consider the safety, clinical- and cost-effectiveness of treatments, the availability of suitably qualified practitioners and individual patient needs.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Could she give the House some reassurance that the Government will make it absolutely clear to all PCTs that this was not an official document and, therefore, ought to be totally disregarded?

My Lords, I would like to be able to give a simple yes or no answer, but I cannot at the moment. As I said, our inquiries have not yet been concluded. Once they are, we will certainly take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, and I will, of course, keep the noble Lord and the noble Countess informed. I take this opportunity to pass the best wishes of the House to the noble Countess, and hope that she recovers soon.

My Lords, I have seen the letter which accompanied that paper. Is it not clear from the letter, written by some of the most eminent medical authorities in the country, that all they are suggesting is that primary care trusts should look at the evidence on homeopathic remedies? Given that the National Health Service is short of funds and that NICE cannot recommend certain very effective treatments for serious diseases because of the lack of funds, is it not eminently sensible to suggest that the NHS should not spend its money on remedies for which there is no scientific evidence and whose effectiveness has never been proven? As homeopathic remedies are diluted infinitely, they have about as much effect as a glass of water.

My Lords, the views of the noble Lord are well known. I say with respect that some eminent clinicians are in favour of alternative medicine and others are not. The Government believe that it is for local PCTs to decide. They are best placed to do that, as they know the needs of local people and how they can best be met.

My Lords, I served for many years as a member of the Homeopathic Hospital management committee. Until that time, I had no idea what homeopathy was—I thought it might be something almost illegal. However, I discovered that there is a place for homeopathy, just as there is a strong place for allopathy, which is the normal medicine that we know. I was concerned when the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said that unofficial documents should not be allowed to be presented to PCTs. It is important that any group of people who think they have a case should be entitled to present it. The important point is to be clear what has an official imprimatur and what does not.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. Everyone has a right to see information, whether it is official or not. The important thing is the status of the document. The document carried the NHS logo, and what is at issue is whether it represents NHS policy.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has said twice now that decisions on such matters are for individual PCTs, and one can understand that. However, is this not overridden by NICE or can the PCTs ignore its advice?

My Lords, NICE has not yet appraised homeopathic medicine. As I said, it is for PCTs to make decisions on the commissioning of complementary and alternative therapies, including homeopathy. Some clinical guidelines produced by NICE have included references to complementary and alternative therapies alongside more conventional treatment. We believe that NICE should look at both conventional and alternative medicine.