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Legal challenge to UK health service on funding of homeopathic prescriptions

13 Apr 2018

The British Homeopathic Association (BHA) is challenging the legal basis for new guidance from NHS England (National Health Service England) that homeopathic medicines should no longer be routinely prescribed by general medical practitioners in the UK. It has launched a campaign to protect the public's right to access homeopathy and other natural health options within the NHS.

In July 2017, NHS England launched a consultation on ‘Items which should not be routinely prescribed in primary care’, including a proposal for future statutory guidance that homeopathy should not be prescribed to existing or new patients within the NHS. This consultation closed in October 2017 with recommendations in November 2017 to stop funding homeopathic prescriptions in any form or in respect of any care pathway, whether in conjunction with traditional pharmaceutical medicines or otherwise.

In October 2017, BHA made an application for judicial review on the basis that the consultation was fundamentally flawed from the outset. It argued that the proposal was formulated without seeking any input from homeopathy experts or practitioners; it was not a genuine attempt to engage patients and healthcare professionals (a decision having been ostensibly predetermined); and did not provide adequate information for them to make a considered and informed response. The BHA is also challenging NHS England’s decision to go ahead with the proposals and publish national guidance that homeopathic medicines should no longer be routinely prescribed by GPs. It demonstrates that NHS England failed to consider the effect of its decision on those patients with protected characteristics (e.g. the elderly, chronically sick, disabled etc), which is in breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty. The judicial review seeks, among other things, a declaration that NHS England has acted unlawfully in relation to its proposals and subsequent decision, on the basis of its failure to consult on them properly and to listen to patients.

Since NHS England issued these recommendations, it is understood that general practitioners are no longer permitted to prescribe homeopathic medicines; this is having an effect on patients. Often chronically ill and on small fixed incomes, these patients are now compelled either to pay for homeopathic services or to use alternative and often more costly NHS services or medicines.

A parliamentary petition to stop NHS England from removing herbal and homeopathic medicines received nearly 35,000 signatures from across all of the UK.

The BHA has been granted a ‘rolled up’ hearing in early May, where the grounds for permission to bring the judicial review and the case will be heard at the same time.

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