'Postcode lottery' for homeopathic treatment
17:47 12 October 2007
Campaigners fighting to save a homeopathic hospital in West Kent have hit out at health bosses after it was revealed patients in the east of the county would continue to receive the service. West Kent Primary Care Trust (PCT) decided to axe funding for the complimentary treatment after a lengthy public consultation and despite thousands of objections. Lesley Herriot, chairman of the Campaign to Save the Homeopathic Hospital (CaSHH) in Tunbridge Wells, said: 'It looks like a case of postcode lottery to us. 'It seems that our patients and friends could continue to receive homeopathic treatment on the NHS if they were to move to East Kent where homeopathy is funded and will continue to be funded. 'Kent is one county so why discriminate against us because we live on the wrong side of it?' She said patients who could not take conventional medicines, many of whom cannot afford to be treated privately, were hugely concerned about what they will do next March when their current treatment end. A spokesman for Eastern and Coastal Kent PCT said the trust had a contract with UCL Hospital in London and that GPs and consultants could refer their patients for homeopathic treatments. CaSHH members swore to keep fighting after West Kent PCT's board decided to stop spending £196,000 out of its £747 million budget on homeopathy. The campaigners are being backed by four Conservative MPs - Greg Clark MP for Tunbridge Wells, Charles Hendry MP for Wealden, Sir John Stanley MP for Tonbridge and Malling and Gregory Barker MP for Bexhill and Battle. The MPs wrote to the PCT board asking for a decision to be delayed until the Government carried out a national review of homeopathy. Mr Barker said: 'I believe in choice. We understand there is more to healthcare and general wellbeing than just the narrow prescription of pharmaceutical drugs. 'I have not doubt the holistic approach is part of the mosaic that is healthcare in the future.' He said the decision to stop funding should not have been taken without wider investigation into clinical results and patient experience. Sally Penrose, the chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association, said the evidence had been interpreted narrowly and in a biased way. 'We felt that public support and patients' views of the benefits of the treatments were ignored. The independent research found there was no clear evidence to support or oppose the commissioning of homeopathy. 'The PCT decided on that negative interpretation and that's not good enough.' Although she backed the Mps' call for a national review, she said: 'There is not enough evidence because it is difficult to get funding for research because you cannot patent homeopathic medicine. Therefore there is not a lot of money to be made. 'Research needs to be conducted rather than just a review of existing studies.' The consultants who work at the homeopathic hospital have a medical background and chose to specialise in the complimentary treatment. The association feared it would push people who could afford it into the unregulated private sector. Dr Helmut Roniger, is a consultant physician at the hospital, he said: 'Around 90 per cent of our patients have been though the [conventional] system and have not been helped. 'The vast majority are on income support and do not have the money to go for private treatment. 'The non-medical or unregulated sector of homeopathy is a mixed bunch of people. While some have studied for years others have only been on weekend courses.' A spokeswoman for West Kent PCT said the homeopathy review looked at 39 reports of major studies and trials but found no clear-cut evidence that the treatment improved people's symptoms. She said if the situation changes and clear evidence emerges the PCT would re-assess its decision.