Homeopathy is not a new idea. The founder of this alternative medicine was a medically trained German, Samuel Hahnemann, first publishing his idea of ‘like cures like’ in a paper in 1796. The idea that small amounts of a toxic substance can be used as a treatment has been carried forward to present day homeopathy and is now practiced as a form of alternative medicine.
Homeopathy claims usefulness in treating a wide range of conditions, including allergies, arthritis, and some respiratory diseases, though there are no valid studies proving any of these claims. The ‘treatments’ given to patients are diluted to one part substance to one trillion parts water, meaning there is often not a single molecule of the substance in the final pill.
In the present day, homeopathy is not perceived by many as a valid treatment. The National Health Service (NHS) website is clear on its stance: homeopathy has no scientific or factual basis in the treatment of any condition or disease. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also does not recommend the use of homeopathy in treating any health problem.
Many studies have been carried out into whether or not homeopathy works. The scientific consensus is no. All studies so far have produced a negative result, been carried out by unreputable organisations or individuals, or been unreproducible when subjected to review. There are numerous studies showing that homeopathic remedies are no more effective than a placebo.
There are currently no regulations on who can practice homeopathy in the United Kingdom. There is no compulsory qualification in the field and anyone is able to start a practice regardless of experience, making it a potentially dangerous option for patients.
Despite there being no scientific evidence to suggest that homeopathy is healing people, many continue to receive treatments and claim that it is having a positive effect. This could be due to the placebo effect, or the targeting of self-resolving ailments.
The placebo effect is well documented; the belief that a pill will work is sometimes strong enough that the body heals, despite there being no active ingredient in said pill. For many ailments such as the common cold or back pain, the body would heal over time with or without the pills, this natural healing ability being wrongly attributed to the sugar pills that were taken.
Currently there are two NHS hospitals and some GP practices in the UK that offer homeopathy. It has been estimated that the NHS spends between £3m and £5m on homeopathic treatment every year. Notably, several health boards in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland still prescribe homeopathy as a treatment. As of October 2015, Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, a former stronghold, no longer provides homeopathic treatment. The NHS is steering towards the removal of homeopathy services entirely, as evidence against it becomes ever stronger.
Germany, previously a bastion for homeopathy, seems to be following the lead of science. Josef Hecken, who governs the committee in charge of deciding which treatments public health insurance can cover, stated in August that he believes homeopathy should not be one of the treatments funded.
The science is clear, homeopathy does not work. What remains less clear is whether governments will continue to fund such pseudoscience at a cost to the taxpayer in times when the UK’s NHS does not have the money to spare.