Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, Britain's leading independent scientific academy, said he was hopeful Hunt might change his mind about homeopathy. "It could be that in his new position he will read more thoroughly," he said. "If we are to make the case for evidence-based medicine, then there shouldn't be any homeopathy."
A 2010 report from a House of Commons science committee recommended the government stop paying for homeopathy. But the department of health leaves decisions on treatments to hospitals, meaning the government continues to pay for some homeopathic remedies. Homeopathic treatments account for less than one percent of Britain's drug costs.
Experts say that homeopathic remedies are mostly prescribed for people with chronic problems like pain or fatigue, where the treatments may seem to work because of the placebo effect. Practitioners who use alternative remedies often spend more time listening to patients, which can help them feel better.
The questionable treatments are backed by celebrities including Paul McCartney, David Beckham and Jude Law. In 2005, Prince Charles commissioned a report on homeopathy which said treating patients with homeopathy could cut the nation's drugs bill in half. Experts said that would put patients' lives in danger.
Women's groups are concerned about Hunt's track record on abortion. In 2008, Hunt voted for the limit to be halved to 12 weeks from the current 24. The motion was thrown out, but experts say Hunt's position was troubling.
"About 80 percent of the country is pro-choice but unfortunately Jeremy Hunt is not one of those people," Kate Smurthwaite, vice-chair of Abortion Rights, an advocacy group. "We hold out hope he's going to take the job seriously and put his personal views aside to get on with the job, but to have him as health minister is incredibly worrying."
David Stringer contributed to this report.
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