FUNDING for homeopathic clinics used by hundreds of patients a year is to be axed by a major Scottish health board.

NHS Lothian has announced that, following a major consultation process, it is to "move away" from providing homeopathic services – including sending patients to Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital.

The decision follows a survey, conducted for the health board, which found 72% of respondents did not want NHS Lothian to pay for this controversial form of care.

Homeopathy is a branch of alternative medicine based on the use of highly diluted substances that practitioners claim can cause the body to heal itself.

While some patients find the approach very beneficial, the weight of scientific evidence is yet to show it is effective and NHS managers around the UK have reviewed funding for the treatments.

However, John Cook, chairman of the British Homeopathic Association, said shutting the NHS Lothian service would not save money. He said: "Concerns have already been expressed by NHS Lothian itself that withdrawing funding for homeopathy will result in an increase in GP appointments, referrals to secondary care services and prescribing costs for conventional medicine."

Homeopathy services in NHS Lothian include clinics at three venues as well as referrals to the Glasgow centre on the Gartnavel General site. In 2010/11, the clinics received approximately 200 new referrals and provided 1573 appointments.

The Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it was a "sustainable service". How-ever, the board added: "We are reliant on the ongoing commitment from other boards to make use of the inpatient services to maintain their viability. We will therefore examine the impact of NHS Lothian's decision. Any changes which may arise as a result of funding decisions by NHS boards in Scotland would be the subject of full consultation with staff and patients."

The British Medical Association in Scotland has repeatedly called for public funding of the hospital to cease unless evidence is offered to prove homeopathy offers more than a "placebo effect".