Campaigning for Your Rights: campaign background

The Friends has been developing a network of individuals and patients who give support to our campaign by writing letters to MPs, Health Commissioning groups, the media, etc. Members of the Friends, together with our supporters, have attended PCT meetings, public protests and demonstrations, signed petitions and lobbied parliamentarians and the Department of Health, and run workshops – all towards protecting our right – and YOURS – to receive our treatment of choice.

There have been many attacks on the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine over the past few years – 2010 was no different and 2011 is proving to be equally traumatic. These have had a drastic impact on our right to freedom of choice and on our ability to get a referral to the RLHIM.

February 2010: The Science and Technology Committee, under the previous Government’s tenure, published a report on the use of homeopathy in the NHS. The recommendations of the report, in brief, were that homeopathy should be withdrawn from the NHS and that homeopathic medicines should no longer be licensed.

It is worth noting that this report was written by 4 of the 14 committee members and only 3 actually voted for it. An Early Day Motion calling the investigation into question was signed by 70 MPs, although this has never, apart from a couple of exceptions, been mentioned by the media!

Before the report’s publication, supporters of the Friends had lobbied their MPs and later, together with RLHIM patients and staff, joined a mass lobby of parliamentarians in support of NHS homeopathy. This was a culmination of a petition of over 28,000 signatures, which was handed into Downing Street by members of the organising group, H:MC21, David Treddinick MP and actress Jenny Seagrove.

June 2010: The British Medical Association (BMA) passed similar motions against the NHS funding of the homeopathic hospitals and homeopathic medicines.

This event, too, was not without controversy. The motions were placed before the BMA without consulting homeopathic doctors or professional organisations. The BMA refused a request by the Faculty of Homeopathy to address the conference, even though the majority of homeopathic doctors are members. The motions were passed 3:1 against homeopathy.

Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about this, but again, supporters and members of the Friends wrote to their MPs and to the BMA protesting these decisions and the cavalier way in which the topic was handled. On the morning the vote was taken we, along with other patients, supporters and practitioner organisations, attended a demonstration outside the conference, which had been arranged by the British Homeopathic Association.

July 2010: The 5 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) making up the North Central London Sector – Camden, Islington, Enfield, Haringey and Barnet – agreed a Low Priority Treatments Policy. That in itself could be the final blow to the viability of the RLHIM, but to rub salt in the wound, more recently, we have learnt that a number of the new commissioning groups made up of the merged PCT areas are also implementing this or a similar policy.

Why are these serious threats?

The Science and Technology Committee Report: Although the government did not accept the recommendations in their official response, they did not rebut the way the enquiry had been held or the subsequent report. The danger here is that it is now in the public domain and Primary Care Trusts can, and indeed are using its conclusions and recommendations to justify decisions not to fund referrals to the homeopathic hospitals.

The British Medical Association Motions: Not a serious threat in its own right, but in conjunction with the other threats and activities, another straw for the camel’s back.

The media, on the whole, fuelling the perception that here is yet another group of experts being ignored by the government. That it is not just respected scientists and MPs, but doctors as well, who feel that patients are being duped and are at risk if using homeopathy.

Low Priority Treatments Policy: Probably the biggest threat of all! If this policy is widely adopted, and it looks as though this is happening, it will result in all GP referrals to the RLHIM requiring approval from the PCT or commissioning group in the areas it is implemented in – a process which would be slow, bureaucratic and, from the experience of many patients in areas already running Exceptional Treatment Panels, often refused.

The Policy appears to be an overt process aimed directly at reducing or completely stopping patient referrals to the RLHIM. Although the hospital is not named , there is a blanket coverage over referrals for any complementary therapy in the policy. Whereas, in every other instance, it is a specified intervention for a named condition in the ‘Low Priority’ treatments listed. The RLHIM is the only dedicated NHS hospital provider of complementary medicine in the area. This policy constitutes a direct attack on its continued viability – a suffocation! If there are no patient referrals, there is no need for the hospital!

How could this affect you?

If your GP refers you to the RLHIM, you are likely to receive a letter from the PCT stating that your case has been referred to an Individual Cases Panel, or Exceptional Treatments Panel or something of a similar name (different PCTs have different names for them).

You, or your GP, may be asked to provide conclusive evidence that any conventional treatment had been unsuccessful and of the effectiveness of the treatment you are being referred for. This puts you, the patient, in a difficult situation and more often than not will result in a refusal.

Such a policy also entirely ignores the patient choice agenda, which the government claims to be at the heart of its healthcare and NHS agenda.

Patient Choice

Patient Choice gets one mention in the policy, but this is followed quickly with the statement: “but only if it satisfactorily meets sufficient other criteria … and that this does not require us to fund a treatment in a particular place.” This is decision-making by PCT officials, not the GP who should be making clinical decisions based on the patient they have before them, and certainly with no input from the patient who, the government tells us “is at the heart of the NHS”.

PCTs now have a limited life span but, in their last few months, are they taking this opportunity to close down a service which is well-used by GPs and popular with patients, before they go? Certainly, if this policy goes through, the end of the RLHIM could be very near!

Choose and Book

Choose and Book (CAB) – a scheme initiated in April 2008 – is a national electronic referral service which aims to give patients the right to “choose any hospital in England funded by the NHS”. We know there are PCTs asking GPs not to refer patients to the RLHIM. We also know that other PCTs have asked GPs not to use the CAB system; and as mentioned earlier, patients attempting to get a referral through Exceptional Treatment Panels face huge difficulties.

There are many examples where patients are not being allowed choice under the CAB scheme. For people who are already suffering from poor health, it is inappropriate and unreasonable to place such a responsibility on them and is causing great distress.

Under the NHS constitution, you have a legal right to access services provided by the NHS. The RLHIM is part of the UCLH NHS Foundation Trust; all of its services are available under the NHS and offered through CAB.

The Friends will continue to protest and lobby for patient choice – your choice – and for all patients who want complementary therapies provided with the best standard of care, delivered by regulated health professionals in a safe environment. The RLHIM is such a place and has always been part of the NHS. And it should remain in the NHS!

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