Bristol GPs prescribed homeopathic treatments to NHS patients over 200 times during Covid pandemic

NHS Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire told BristolWorld that its Homeopathy Services was decommissioned in 2018 but some prescribing of homeopathic products have remained.
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GPs across Bristol have prescribed controversial homeopathic treatments to patients more than 200 times since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS England said it would no longer fund the pseudoscientific ‘medicine’ in 2017.

But analysis by BristolWorld shows ‘homeopathic preparations’ were prescribed 217 times by NHS Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) between April 2020 and June 2021, at an estimated cost of £13,123.

This is the highest number of homeopathic prescriptions of any CCG during the pandemic.

Across England the remedies were prescribed 1,000 times, at an estimated cost to the NHS of nearly £23,000.

Homeopaths have come under fire during the pandemic for peddling bogus treatments, at a time when misinformation on Covid and vaccines has spread rampantly on social media.

NHS England was contacted multiple times by BristolWorld, and asked why the discredited treatment was still being used by its doctors. It refused to provide a comment.

How much has been prescribed?

Between the start of 2016 and June 2021, homeopathic preparations have been prescribed by GPs more than 14,100 times, according to official NHS prescribing data sourced from OpenPrescribing.net, which is compiled by EBM DataLab and the University of Oxford.

It has cost the NHS an estimated £230,000.

Homeopathic preparations are remedies prepared by diluting natural substances in water, according to the principles of homeopathy.

Across England, 103 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have distributed at least one prescription during that time.

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The number of prescriptions has fallen dramatically in recent years after NHS England advised GPs and other prescribers to stop providing homeopathy in 2017 - a position later backed by a High Court Judgement in 2018.

But homeopathic remedies have still been prescribed thousands of times since then, including during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although it is not widely available, during the pandemic homeopathy was prescribed 1,000 times across 60 CCGs at an estimated cost of almost £23,000.

There is no suggestion GPs have prescribed homeopathic treatments for Covid-related ailments.

What does the NHS say?

NHS Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire told BristolWorld that its Homeopathy Services was decommissioned in 2018 but some prescribing of homeopathic products have remained.

The spokesperson said: “We are currently working closely with GP practices to support them in the deprescribing of these items and as has been noted this is gradually reducing in a positive way.”

NHS England declined to provide a comment on why homeopathy was still being prescribed throughout the pandemic.

What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy is based on the ‘like cures like’ practice, where the use of highly diluted substances is used as an alternative treatment. Its benefits are widely discredited.

A House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy said that it performs no better than placebos.

Despite the controversy, it is allegedly used by around 200 million people worldwide and has some high profile backers, including Prince Charles, who is patron of The Faculty of Homeopathy. He is also patron of the more mainstream College of Medicine.

In June 2020 the Faculty of Homeopathy released a joint statement with Homeopathy UK  stating that homeopathy “­­­­­­­­­­can play a useful role in supporting people through all aspects of this crisis”.

It did also support Prince Charles when he publicly encouraged the uptake of the coronavirus vaccine earlier this year.

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