FORMER Health Secretary Alex Neil has called for the government to step in to fund Scotland's only homeopathic hospital as concerns over its future continue.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) has plans to shut down the Centre for Integrative Care's inpatient service, downgrading it to an outpatient clinic.

It believes that will free up space at the Gartnavel Hospital-based centre to create the country's first dedicated centre for chronic pain.

There have been concerns about the funding of CIC as NHS Highland, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Lothian took a the decision to stop funding homeopathy altogether, including referrals to the centre.

Details of the plan leaked in a June NHSGGC report which said: "The requirement for the in-patient service is reduced by the decisions of other boards to cease to fund the service. That reduction in funding also requires us to reduce costs."

Mr Neil, who two years ago hinted the chronic pain centre could be located there but was determined to keep the homeopathic hospital open, has there is now a "strong case" for the CIC to be funded centrally by the Scottish Government.

He said: This is a national asset. It’s unfair to leave it to only one health board, Glasgow, to fund.

"The facility needs to remain open and be able to offer its services to all those who need them, irrespective of the in-built prejudice against it by most of the medical profession.

"As far as many patients are concerned the CIC can help them in ways that traditional medicine can’t. To allow it to wither on the vine would be a mistake and it mustn’t be allowed to happen."

Homeopathy involves treating people with highly diluted substances with the aim of triggering the body's own healing mechanisms.

Medical scientists have said many trials have shown it is no better than a placebo.But Mr Neil has said in an email to the Scottish Parliament: "I know of people in my own area whose lives would have been a lot less tolerable without the services they have received from the CIC.

"To run it down now would be a big mistake and would fly in the face of the underlying principle that patients come first."

The Airdrie and Shotts MSP added: "The fairest way to deal with this situation is for the government to fund the facility directly, thus facilitating the treatment of patients who benefit from this service, irrespective of where they live in Scotland."

Formerly known as the Homeopathic Hospital, two years ago it was claimed managers were attempting to distance itself from alternative medicine by renaming itself as the Centre for Integrative Care.

CIC has remained a popular destination for patients Figures for 2014-15 saw 333 inpatient and days cases being treated at the centre along with 7,778 outpatients - a slight drop from 359 inpatient and day cases and 8,007 outpatients in 2013-14.

Between 2011/12 and 2014/15 60 per cent of referrals ot the CIC were patients within the NHSGCC area. NHS Lanarkshire contributed the second highest number of referrals over the four years at between 15 and 19 percent. Eight health boards referred fewer than 10 patients over those years.

It was estimated last year that Scotland’s health boards spent nearly £2 million a year on homeopathy services - £1.33m of which came from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

The Centre for Integrative Care is one of four across the UK funded by the NHS. It treats patients with serious health problems, including cancer, with conventional medicine combined with alternative therapies.

On the issue of central funding, Aileen Campbell, the minister for public health and sport has, however, indicated that the CIC would have to be designated as a national resource.

The CIC is operated by NHSGGC and is therefore commissioned and funded by the NHS board through their annual revenue allocation, she said.

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament's public petitions committee she pointed out that a "highly specialised clinical service may be considered for national designation" through application to the National Specialist Service Committee.

An NHSGCC spokeswoman said: "In our view all of the services which are provided at the CIC to inpatients are also provided to outpatient and day patients. That means our proposal will not reduce the range of services.