A report into the move states that the homeopathy service has been in rapid decline over the past few years with the current levels of patient referrals being insufficient to support their own premises. In 2009/2010 there were 898 new patients seen at the hospital. This has now collapsed to 470 in the last year. The reasons given for the move appear to be somewhat confused with suggestions that it is to do with an expensive need to improve IT services and put modern networking in the building and that the University of Bristol want their building back. What is clear is that the homeopaths hope the move with change their fortunes.
Bristol Homeopahic Hospital has had a difficult month and have had to withdraw their outreach clinics from Cullomtpon. The clinic was held at the GP Surgery complex of Michael Dixon, champion of alternative medicine and favourite of Prince Charles.
The report stresses that the proposed change of location is not a downgrade of service but just a relocation. This is not quite true. From having a dedicated building, the homeopathy service will now be sharing space, leased by the NHS from private company Bristol Infracare (LiftCo). In their own words, they are “losing their own front door”. The report also discusses the need to do structural changes to create waiting spaces in the new building with the required “calm atmosphere”. When your medicine is nothing but sugar pills, having a nice space becomes that much more important.
The closure is the last chance for supporters of homeopathy to claim the NHS provides homeopathic hospitals. Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital closed in 2008. The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital went in 2010 after it became impossible to claim that significant homeopathic services dominated the practices of the doctors. It became the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine where a number of alternative medicines are practiced in one small part of a once much larger building. Liverpool Homeopathic Hospital just disappeared being replaced by an outsourced contract to a Community Interest Company. Even without this news from Bristol, it has been a struggle to claim there were NHS Homeopathy Hospitals in the UK.
So, the future of Bristol Homeopathy looks uncertain. Much will depend on if it can turn around the massive and rapid decline in service usage. Their hope is that a move away from the city centre will make them more accessible to a broader group of potential referrals. Indeed, they look to see increasing numbers of patients from Bath & North East Somerset (BANES). Given that most patients according to the report are “complex, frail elderly patients”, the hope that a wider catchment with longer travel times looks, at best, hopeful.
But the British Homeopathic Association have been putting an enormous amount of effort into lobbying the PCT in Bath to continue funding homeopathic treatment. The PCT were considering dropping this service, but a Freedom of Information request by me shows a long-term, persistent, and at times vicious campaign for Bath to not drop homeopathy by the homeopathic doctor’s representative group.
In the UK, only Glasgow can still claim with any honesty to have a homeopathic hospital, although it is more of an out-patient clinic without even its own dispensing facilities. Even this facility is shifting from its homeopathic roots by now calling itself “The NHS Centre for Integrative Care. Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital”.
It looks that publicly funded homeopathy in the UK is moving towards being just the preserve of a few eccentric doctors, often just working in general practice, whose PCTs are still willing to pay for a few homeopathic prescriptions. It could well be that NHS funding ends completely. In which case, we will just see the ‘Harley Street’ medical homeopaths able to attract the sort of wealthy clients who really don’t want to visit the crystals and patchouli ‘lay’ homeopath down the back alley. No bad thing.