Family doctors are refusing to honour free prescriptions for so-called alternative medicines on the NHS, it has emerged.

An increasing number of patients attending the Homoeopathic Hospital in Glasgow, the only one of its kind in the country, are now having to pay privately for treatments recommended by their consultant.

Following the closure of the hospital's pharmacy last year, patients now have to get their GP to sanction prescriptions.

But some doctors are no longer approving the medicine on the NHS, amid an increasingly vocal rejection of the benefits of the treatment by the conventional medical profession.

Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil criticised the GPs' stance when he told a public meeting in Glasgow: "If a GP is referring a patient to the Homoeopathic Hospital I think they are duty bound and morally bound to be prepared to write a prescription if that is the outcome of these visits."

Up to 800 patients are seen at the hospital every year, but the care on offer has already been cut back, with overnight beds reduced and the hospital no longer running a seven-day-a-week operation.

Robert Calderwood, chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: "Our view is if a GP makes a referral that is because he or she thinks the patient will benefit from it and should make the prescription available.

"A number of GPs are refusing to do that and we are sympathetic to the individuals involved."