Homoeopathic and herbal prescribing in general practice in Scotland

Authors


Dr Sarah Ross, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, The University of Aberdeen, Polwarth Buildings, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, UK.
Tel.: + 012 2455 3015
E-mail: s.ross@abdn.ac.uk

Abstract

What is already known about this subject

  • • Homoeopathy and herbalism are increasingly popular among the public and prescribed by general practitioners in the NHS.
  • • Doctors and regulatory authorities have expressed concerns about their efficacy and safety.
  • • Studies from the 1990s suggest that between 5.9 and 7.5% of English NHS general practitioners have prescribed homoeopathy, while less than 1% have prescribed herbal remedies. Current levels of prescribing are unknown but are thought to have increased.

What this study adds

  • • Sixty percent of Scottish general practices now prescribe homoeopathic or herbal remedies.
  • • The prevalence of homoeopathic prescribing in those under 16 years has doubled since 2000 and is maximal in children < 1 year old, of whom 1% are prescribed a homoeopathic remedy.
  • • Recognized drug–herb interactions were identified in 4% of patients prescribed oral herbal remedies.

Aims

To investigate the current levels of homoeopathic and herbal prescribing in Scottish general practice.

Methods

Prescribing of homoeopathic and herbal remedies in primary care was assessed in 1891 669 patients for the year 2003–2004, using computerized prescribing data retrieved from 323 general practices in Scotland.

Results

Forty-nine percent of practices prescribed homoeopathic and 32% herbal remedies. A total of 193 homoeopathic and 17 herbal remedies were prescribed, with 5% of practices accounting for 46% of patients and 50% of remedies. Four thousand one hundred and sixty patients (2.2/1000 registered patients) were prescribed at least one homoeopathic remedy during the study period, with the highest prevalence to children under 12 months of age (9.5/1000 children of that age). Children under the age of 16 made up 16% of the population prescribed homoeopathic remedies (2.2/1000 registered patients of that age). Three hundred and sixty-one patients (0.2/1000 registered patients) were prescribed at least one herbal remedy during the study period, 44 of whom were children < 16 years old. Patients prescribed a homoeopathic or herbal remedy were also prescribed a median of four and five conventional medicines, respectively. Of patients prescribed an oral herbal remedy, 4% were also concomitantly prescribed a conventional medicine with which a drug–herb interaction has been documented.

Conclusions

Our study reports that a substantial number of Scottish general practitioners prescribe homoeopathic and herbal remedies, with an approximate doubling in the number of children prescribed homoeopathic remedies. The level of homoeopathic and herbal prescribing raises questions about homoeopathic/herbal provision in the National Health Service and should prompt critical review.

Ancillary