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Doctors attack NHS support of complementary medicine

Letter calls for public money to be spent on 'proven' evidence-based medicines

A small group of Britain's leading doctors has written a letter urging NHS trusts throughout the UK to stop recommending or paying for ìunprovenî complementary therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture.

In a letter reproduced in the Times, the doctors expressed their belief that the NHS should only recommend treatments if their use had been ìbased on solid evidence.î

The fear among the letter's signatories is that money being spent on ìuntestedî alternative treatments is money that could be used for more rigorously tested mainstream treatments.

The letter was organised by Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London, and its 13 signatories included Nobel Prize-Winner Sir James Black, Sir Keith Peters, president of the academy of Medical Science and, according to the Times, six fellows of the Royal Society.

It criticised two initiatives - a government-funded guide on homeopathy for patients, and the Smallwood Report, which was commissioned by Prince Charles, and advocates greater access to complementary therapies.

Its publication may also deliberately coincide with a speech by Prince Charles, who is putting forward the case to further integrate alternative medicine in the world's fight against serious disease at the World Health Assembly, in Geneva.

Mr. Baum's letter, however, opposes the Prince's views. It describes homeopathy as an ìimplausable treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness.î It goes on to say that while ìmedical practice must remain open to new discoveries,î it would ìbe highly irresponsible to embrace any medicine as though it were a matter of principle.î

It continues: ìThe public and the NHS are best served by using the available funds for treatments that are based on solid evidence.î

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health (DoH) said that clinicians would make the ultimate decision on the use of alternative therapies.

She said: ìPatients rightly expect to have clear information about the range of treatments that are available to them, including complementary therapies.î

Despite approximately half of GPs prescribing alternative therapies, the DoH said it did not have figures showing the amount of money spent by the NHS on alternative therapies.

30th September 2008

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