One of the medical newspapers, Pulse, has a news article saying that there has been a drop in the number of homeopathic prescriptions by GPs in the UK. In 2005, there were 83,000 written, and in 2007, it had fallen to 49,300.
This is good news. It could be that GPs are becoming more critical about the evidence for their prescriptions, or patients are being more critical of the evidence for what works. One UK NHS homeopathic hospital has had funding withdrawn. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence evaluates interventions and recommends that treatments of marginal or no cost effective benefit are not funded. However it is most unfair that homeopathy, which the evidence says doesn’t work beyond that of placebo, has yet to undergo a similar evaluation.
Having said that, homeopathy does have a placebo effect, a valuable thing. The placebo effect could be regarded more broadly as the beneficial effects of medicine which are not mediated by a biologically active ‘medical’ intervention itself – placebo pills and even placebo surgery have been found to have beneficial effects for patients. So have, for example, continuity of care, and longer appointment times. The ethics of using placebos are fraught. However, there is no such ethical problem with providing longer appointments and continuous care. It seems most unfair that the people currently allowed to benefit most from the placebo effect are those who are prepared to use homeopathy. There are other, better things that could be used for more people to benefit from such ‘caring effects’.