This Business Insider article argues about homeopathic treatment being virtually banned from using NHS funding:

Britain's government health system (NHS) had continued to pay for thousands of patients to receive homeopathic treatment. But on July 21, the NHS included homeopathy in a lengthy report on items that primary care doctors should not prescribe. That effectively bans patients from using government funds for homeopathic treatment.

I am wondering why including this kind of treatment in the NHS funding in the first place since it has failed to pass the scientific method:

Glasziou looked at nearly 200 scientific studies about the effectiveness of the regimen for 68 conditions, ranging from arthritis to HIV. Overall, the treatment had "no discernible effect" on any of those conditions, which led Glasziou to conclude that homeopathy was "a therapeutic dead-end."

While private individuals are free to chose their treatment, one expects a national health system to fund based on more "fact-based" approaches.

Question: Why did UK NHS pay for homeopathic treatments?

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    Same question applies for France...
    – Evargalo
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 7:51
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    At one time the DoH's official position was not based on efficacy but patient choice. In response to a report by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, published in Feb 2010: "We believe in patients being able to make informed choices about their treatments, and in a clinician being able to prescribe the treatment they feel most appropriate in particular circumstances. "Our continued position on the use of homeopathy within the NHS is that the local NHS and clinicians, rather than Whitehall, are best placed to make decisions on what treatment is appropriate for their patients."
    – Lag
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 12:38
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    @Lag: Most people would not consider someone choosing homeopathy to be making an "informed choice".
    – Vikki
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 0:51
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    @Sean If they've been told "there's no scientific basis behind it and little (if any) evidence that it actually does anything useful" and they still decide to have it, does that not count as an informed choice?
    – Pharap
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 5:42
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    This is a purely anecdotal answer from a friend who is an NHS GP. She said that prescribing homeopathic remedies was a good way to deal with neurotic patients who continually bother the doctor, but who have nothing wrong with them. They felt better about it, and she knew that she wasn't doing them any harm (or any good for that matter) with the 'medicine'. Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 9:08

7 Answers 7


Evidence based medicine really only dates from the 1980's. In the UK that era was dominated by the Thatcher government, which valued freedom of choice and decentralization. Having the NHS act more like the private sector was seen as a positive thing.

Towards the end of the century the focus changed to promoting best available practice, in particular with the founding of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in 1999.

Since then, homeopathy has been in slow decline and regulatory attitude against it hardening.

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    "Evidence based medicine really only dates from the 1980's." What do you mean? Medicine has been based on evidence at least since the Enlightenment.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 9:49
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    @terdon I mean a more rigorous approach to medicine based on e.g. high quality trials. Fair point though, I'll link the wikipedia article to the term.
    – richardb
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 10:02
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    @terdon Medicine to this day continues to be based on emotional judgment calls of physicians and doctors' self interest -- though more grounded on clinical trials and research than decades past, and seems to be getting better with time. The "put a stent in a patient not having a heart attack" discussion comes up frequently as an example; doing something is better than doing nothing, and prevents the doctor from being sued, despite no evidence this helps the not-having-a-heart-attack patient eg theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/02/…
    – BurnsBA
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 14:01
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    @terdon Medicine has involved evidence for that long, but the idea that the evidence can serve as the primary basis for clinical decisions is what's more modern.
    – Will
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 15:15

When the NHS was founded in 1948 homoeopathic treatments were not completely disapproved of

Several founding hospitals of the NHS were homoeopathic see https://www.britishhomeopathic.org/homeopathy/what-is-homeopathy/homeopathy-and-the-nhs/

Without getting into any controversy about if there is any value in the treatments, it's clear that end users sometimes believe that it works. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8528807.stm

Because of this, once some kind of funding was established it would continue

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    I am a ferocious enemy of homeopathy being treated as any kind of science (because it is a a pile of nonsense, my blood pressure is raising just by typing this). I also believe that the ability of a human body to drive itself into a good or bad state is enormous (placebo and nocebo effect). So your point it's clear that end users sometimes believe that it works is very much correct. If we had infinite funds then why not? refunding something which "sometimes somehow works" would be OK. With finite funds we need to make choices and go for the tangible, tested drugs.
    – WoJ
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 7:44
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    It's extremely misleading to talk about "founding hospitals of the NHS". That suggests that the NHS was formed by a group of hospitals coming together, but that's not what happened at all. The NHS was formed by a central government take-over of the existing hospital services, which had been variously run by charities, local authorities and private companies. To a large extent, "founding hospital of the NHS" just means "hospital that existed in 1948". Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 9:50
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    Furthermore, of the three hospitals listed by the British Homeopathic Association, the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine hasn't provided NHS-funded homeopathic treatment since 2018, the original Bristol Homeopathic Hospital stopped doing homeopathy in 2015 (and the new, private homeopathic centre at Portland has no contracts with the NHS) and the Glasgow Centre for Integrative Care no longer receives NHS referrals from health authorities outside Glasgow and has been proposed for closure. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 9:55
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    @WoJ If we had infinite funds then why not? Because believing they are being treated makes people stop seeking treatments which is dangerous for their health. Unless you add "infinitely healthy" to the infinite funds it's still bad.
    – nwp
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 10:22
  • @nwp: it really depends on the cases. If someone takes some chalk and after that his general well-being increases, this is a solution. Same for some headaches coming from stress or similar reasons. If this is presented as an alternative to cancer treatment, this means jail time for the producers and the "doctor" who ordered that. I use "doctor" because most of the frauds who call themselves "healers" or "alternative doctors" should be hunted down (I know a case of someone who was driven away from real treatment and almost died). Swallowing some chalk which helps you is not that.
    – WoJ
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 13:03

France's equivalent of the NHS is only now getting rid of homeopathy. Not before time. At some point in time, some of these medical practices still were not demonstrated to be ineffective, but now they are. Their withdrawal can be politically painful however.

The problem is basically that, once you have state subsidies and funding for any given industry and activity, the limited number of people benefiting from it have a vested interest to fight to keep it. While the large majority of taxpayers have a much more diffuse interest in seeing their taxes put to better uses (Assuming the subsidy in question is of limited benefit, of course. If it's beneficial then that's a different question - I am not advocating ceasing govt funding in most cases).

So, the French homeopathy industry says 1300 jobs will be lost and I assume dropping it will not be popular with people who use it. That buys of lot of lobbying to keep the status quo. And people are, rightly, very vocal about defending public health care. I assume the UK situation is roughly equivalent.

France will stop homeopathic reimbursements by 2021, starting in 2019

In the bottom end of that article, it says that there were rumors that the French Health Minister, a doctor by training, had to threaten to resign if her suggestion to cease the subsidies was not adopted.


Quite apart from anything else, there is a chunk of the population that is very hard to convince to see a doctor. If offering homeopathy gets some them in front of someone who ALSO happens to be trained to spot the symptoms of Diabetes, common Cancers, High blood pressure, and a pile of other common things that are easier to treat when caught early, it may very well be a net win.

It probably only takes the Homeopath referring a few people a year to a proper specialist for Cancer caught early to more then cover the cost of paying the homeopath, not to mention the lives saved.

Also, remember that the people going to see the homeopath are for the most part people who would bet better anyway. As such the homeopath is merely offering even more of a placebo then the GP prescribing aspirin is, and to about the same effect in most cases!

I disapprove of homeopathy because chemically it is clearly nonsense, but if it gets important, not nonsense stuff caught early that has value, even if at the end of the day the guy doing the 'treatment' is really providing mental health services and handing out small amounts of bottled water!

The correct evidence base here is not 'Does Homeopathy work?', it is 'Does offering homeopathy improve outcomes for people who opt to see the homeopath instead of no doctor at all?', a subtle but important difference, with I suspect different answers.

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    You should also ask, "Does offering homeopathy worsen outcomes for people who opt to see the homeopath instead of an actual doctor?"
    – Dave Costa
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 20:51
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    Indeed, as ever making sure you are asking ALL the right questions of the stats is vital.
    – Dan Mills
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 0:36
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    Substitute African Witch Doctor for Homeopathy and run your same argument over again. Does it still make sense? I can understand plenty of reasons homeopathy is still being funded, but yours is not one of them. FWIW, France's equivalent of the NHS was also funding homeopathy when I left there in the late 90s - my guess is that would be significant lobbying by practitioners and believers against withdrawing it. Update: journaldemontreal.com/2019/07/09/… Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 6:31
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    @ItalianPhilosopher IFF the witch doctor is referring people with real serious problems to a proper medic at least some of the time (And these people would otherwise not have seen a proper doctor), then I don't have an issue, providing the side effect of people choosing to see the witch doctor instead of the real one does not override the effect. The witch doctors are mostly WELL aware that they suck as medics, more then you can say for most homeopaths (The witch doc is probably a better applied psychologist then most real doctors however)...
    – Dan Mills
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 13:24
  • @ItalianPhilosopher the difference is that homeo- and -pathy are real medical word. It sounds legitimate. Give African Witch Doctor a Greek or Latin translation and many people will flock to it instead of "allopathy".
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 2:47

Prince Charles' support for homeopathy and his general tendency to lobby politiians and administrators for his personal issues is well documented. Without going into details I know people who have experienced this.

It is also very public. And confirmed by the publication of his famous 'black spider letters' after a FoI battle, and includes vengeful attacks on individuals who disagree with him. I was a member of a committee involved in the regulation of clinical professions in the UK which - in part due to lobbying by the PoW was obliged to include 'alternative' practioners on the grounds that being able to exclude practioners who had committed abuse or misconduct was a good thing regardless of the efficacy of the treatment. But of course once involved they loved to market themselves a 'government approved' as if their practices were.





There has been a long running campaign by sensible doctors to drive homeopathy out of the NHS, which PoW successfully delayed for decades.


Germany had the same discussion, and only recently the secretary of state for health decided not to press the issue further - which means that general public healthcare can keep funding homeopathy.

The official reason is that Germany pays 40 billion € per year for healthcare, and only 20 million of this - 0.05% - is for homeopathy. So the savings just aren't worth while, especially as this would alienate a non-negligible percentage of the population. Link, in German

This has been criticized heavily for example here, again in German.

But as long as the cost is low, and politicians think some actions will lose them voters, actions that make sense from a scientific view but are unpopular will not be taken. With Brexit in a critical state right now, the NHS might even have timed this to slip under everybody's attention.

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    As long as the "perceived cost" is low. There are quite some different takes on this: "doesn't value the penny", effective harm done by homeopathic treatments not properly calculated, 'principle', … But your main point "gather irrational voters" is the kicker… "A sucker is born every day" and he's just the material a voter is built from… Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 19:22
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    Germany is more market-based regarding health insurance - it is an industry with competing insurers, albeit a highly regulated industry. Insurers started offering paying for alternative treatments as a marketing measure. Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 11:45
  • When I moved to Germany I wanted to get insurance that didn't pay for quack medicine, but it was actually so much more expensive than coverage that did that I didn't bother in the end. Providers offer it because it is popular, and it doesn't put many people off. Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 12:48

Prince Charles believes in homeopathy so the NHS didn't want to antagonize him and risk reducing his patronage.

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    Any sources to back this up?
    – pipe
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 15:48
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    @ClintEastwood That article demonstrats that Prince Charles supports homeopathy, but it does not demonstrate that his belief in homeopathy has any impact on what the NHS does. If anything it demonstrates the opposite: "The prince’s continued support for homeopathic remedies comes despite the NHS having all but abandoned them. In 2017, announcing plans for them to be made unavailable on prescription on the NHS, Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, said homeopathy was “at best a placebo and a misuse of scarce NHS funds”." I.e. homeopathy is being phased out in spite of Prince Charles.
    – Pharap
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 5:36
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    Note that the NHS is four months older than Prince Charles so, even if he's part of the answer, he can't be the whole answer. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 10:23
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    as usual with the prince, not exactly reassuring as a Canadian that he might be our head of state someday :( Not that I truly believe he's in the driver's seat here. Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 4:35
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    @PaulJohnson Not so. sueyounghistories.com/2008-02-05-aneurin-bevan-and-homeopathy
    – richardb
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 13:03

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