Actually homeopathy's already been having a pretty interesting week this week.
First, plenty of people noticed its absence in the list of things the NHS is considering not paying for anymore. Second, considerably fewer people noticed that the NHS has kinda already considered this, by paying less and less for it each year anyway.
There are two sums of money at issue
- the amount spent on NHS England prescriptions for homeopathy - less than £100,000 (see blue graph below) for 6,821 prescription items (red graph below) in 2016
- the amount spent on the wider infrastructure for homeopathy (staff, buildings etc) - apparently about £4m to £5m in 2016
In the mid-1990s the NHS in England spent upwards of £800,000 on homeopathy for 170,000 prescription items. This has dropped precipitously over the years, as you can see from the informative and entertaining graphs below.
|Picture credit: Nightingale Collaboration, used with permish :)|
Well done! You began the year on 1 Jan 2016 with not a single homeopathy item prescribed but ended the year with a whopping increase to 6,281 items prescribed - an increase on a par with infinity.
Where was I...
I don't have the breakdown for the non-prescription costs, estimated to be several million at the moment. It's great that the prescription costs are dropping but we may still be wasting millions on this non-treatment on the NHS.
Although homeopathy wasn't mentioned in the first raft of 'things to consider banning' it will indeed be included in later considerations, according to Julie Wood's tweet below (she's the Chief Executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners).
|"Homeopathy is in the overall £400m of spend identified - currently not in |
first wave of 10 products for review but this is an ongoing project"
In other words, skeptics are pushing at an open door. We're not really trailblazing the decline of homeopathy on the NHS, it's happening anyway. Perhaps we've contributed to the changing mood though - for example newspaper reports now seem less likely to champion it and more likely to laugh at its improbability.
Unsurprisingly the magazine 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' (they don't like me much) have regurgitated the misinformation ("Homeopathy escapes the NHS cuts") and also managed to add in another error at the end ("The Swiss health authority has announced that homeopathy is effective enough to be included among therapies that can be claimed under health insurance plans..."). The Swiss have done no such thing and explicitly acknowledged that homeopathy was unable to provide evidence of efficacy. However, bafflingly, they are continuing to reimburse its use in health insurance but only if administered by a doctor, so there's that I suppose.
Background reading on NHS prescription costs
Every year the costs of prescriptions in England are published. Skeptics, being amused by the drop of homeopathy spending on the NHS have kept an eye on the cost for each year, going back to 1995 (info is publicly available).
Prescription Cost Analysis, England - 2016 [NS]
Publication date: March 30, 2017
Prescription Cost Analysis, England - 2016: Data Tables [.zip]
The [NS] means a publication that is within the scope of National Statistics, the lack of a [PAS] next to it means that no Press Announcement is Scheduled.
• NHS Digital Publications calendar April 2016 - March 2017
• NHS Digital Publications calendar (future)
Background reading on Swiss health authority and homeopathy
The Swiss rejected homeopathy as a 'treatment' that could be reimbursed in 2005 however lots of Swiss people voted for it in 2009 to be included, among some other ineffective treatments. The health authority requested evidence of effectiveness but eventually admitted defeat and surprised everyone in 2016 with this announcement:
"In a statement released on Tuesday, the interior ministry said it had come to the conclusion that it was “impossible to provide such proof for these disciplines in their entirety”.
They will thus be treated on a par with other medical disciplines, when it comes to health insurance.
The ministry plans to continue allowing reimbursements of treatment costs by compulsory health insurance, provided they are administered by certified medical doctors."
Bad news for homeopathy fans though, it will continue to be scrutinised...