60% of doctors' surgeries in Scotland prescribe homeopathic or herbal remedies and the Researchers call for critical review, especially of prescribing to babies and young children. The results of the study of nearly two million patients were published in the December issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
Researchers from the University of Aberdeen analysed official prescribing data from 2003-2004, covering 1.9 million patients from 323 practices. Their findings have led them to call for a critical review of homeopathic and herbal prescribing in the UK National Health Service, particularly the high levels given to babies and children under 16.
"Our study shows that a substantial number of Scottish family doctors prescribe homeopathic and herbal remedies" says co-author Dr James McLay from the University's Department of Medicine and Therapeutics.
This level of prescribing raises important questions about homeopathic and herbal provision in the UK's National Health Service.
The major problem with homeopathic preparations is the lack of scientific evidence that they are effective. Given the rise of evidence-based medicine and the trend toward prescribing guidance in the UK, should therapies with no convincing positive clinical trial evidence be prescribed and funded by the health service or are proponents of such remedies correct in stating that the difficulties inherent in trailing such therapies make evidence irrelevant.
"Whatever the arguments, our study shows an apparent acceptance of homeopathic and herbal medicine within primary care, including extensive use in children and young babies. We believe that these findings underline the need for a critical review of this prescribing trend."
"The research by the University of Aberdeen adds an important dimension to the ongoing debate about homeopathic remedies, as it shows what is actually happening at grass roots in Scottish general practice" adds Dr Jeffrey Aronson, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal and Reader in Clinical Pharmacology at Oxford University.
"In September 2006 the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) introduced new rules to regulate homeopathic medicines, allowing manufacturers to specify the ailments for which they can be used.
"This move has been criticised by a number of leading UK scientific institutions, who argue that homeopathic medicines should not be allowed to make 'unsubstantiated health claims' and that the policy is damaging to patients' best interests.
"We hope that this paper will further inform the debate, as it provides clear evidence on prescribing patterns within the NHS and raises a number of important issues, particularly about prescribing homeopathic and herbal remedies to children."