Recent reports that Prince Charles had been lobbying the Health Secretary to back homeopathic medicine provoked howls of protest. Critics pointed out there was no scientific evidence it actually worked.
Indeed, both the British Medical Association and the Commons Science and Technology Committee have said the NHS should stop funding homeopathic treatments.
Sceptics say the therapies are no better than placebos, yet some medics argue they are backed by strong evidence. And a report from website NetDoctor says half of all GPs are thought to provide access to 'therapy outside conventional medicine', including osteopathy and acupuncture. There are also 400 GP members of the Faculty of Homeopathy, and 900 GP members of the British Medical Acupuncture Society.
GPs are the most likely of all doctors to want to fit in with patients' agendas and beliefs, says Dr Michael Dixon, an NHS GP and chairman of the NHS Alliance, which campaigns to improve healthcare within the service.
'But more and more, we are also recognising that conventional medicine doesn't have all the answers,' he adds. 'It is great for diagnosing patients, but not always able to treat the problems it identifies. 'At our practice (in Cullompton, Devon) we refer patients for osteopathy, hypnosis, massage, acupuncture and reflexology. And we frequently recommend herbal remedies. The main criticism levelled against alternative medicine is that it lacks evidence to support it, but some herbs have a lot of evidence to back them up. For example, St John's Wort is well-proven to treat mild to medium depression, and peppermint has long been used (and prescribed by GPs as Colpermin) for bowel spasms.
Source - Daily Mail