Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Charles gets seal of approval on unorthodox treatments

.....and Charles is to be the next King of England? May God save us!! (in contrast to "God save the King").

Charles gets seal of approval on unorthodox treatments

Complementary health guide gains state aid

James Meikle, health correspondent
Tuesday February 15, 2005
The Guardian

As Prince Charles heads for a second marriage in April, fresh evidence emerged yesterday that he is sealing a closer union with the medical and scientific establishment.

The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, which he founded partly to establish a place for alternative and complementary therapies in the NHS, issued its first guide for patients on how to seek such treatments from the state service, private practitioners or charities.

Nearly six million people, one in 10 of the population, opt for complementary care each year, and a host of celebrities from Madonna to Cherie Booth are interested in an approach that may have once been called "way out".

The 50-page booklet, part-funded by the government, gives advice on how to find therapists, check whether they are regulated, how much they might charge and how to get information on their qualifications. The government recently gave the foundation £900,000 to help improve regulation of standards in this area.

Only half of GP surgeries refer patients for complementary therapies, and less than a quarter offer at least one therapy at their own surgeries.

The royal thinktank, at arms-length from the NHS bureaucracy and the brainchild of a notoriously independent and outspoken enthusiast, advocates health treatments that often appear to patients more personal and less institutionalised than those offered by conventional medicine, even though there may often be lack of "scientific proof" for their efficacy. Now the government is encouraging broader use under the politically attractive banner of more choice for the consumer, while at the same time softening the old image of a state bureaucracy with no interest in alternatives to conventional medical wisdom.

The new guide stresses the need for patients to tell both their GP and therapist what other medication they are on and to check for insurance.
This advice is backed up by signposting a plethora of websites, but giving no verdict on the efficacy of popular treatments, from acupuncture and aromatherapy to shiatsu and yoga. The Guardian invited Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School at Exeter and Plymouth universities, to remedy that gap. "The documented benefits of chiropractic do not seem to outweigh its potential risks," he said. With acupuncture, "for some conditions the benefits ... outweigh its risks". At the moment only chiropractors and osteopaths have to be regulated by law. The government is soon to insist on self-policing, with powers to strike off practitioners, for those involved with herbal medicines and acupuncture.

Michael Fox, chief executive of the foundation, conceded the guide was not an analysis of the evidence base for complementary approaches, but hoped it was "easy-to-read and useful. There are six million people using complementary healthcare at the moment. Yes, we would want to understand more about what works and doesn't work, but if we are already receiving healthcare from a complementary practioner we want to see the care we receive properly regulated.

"It is much more acceptable these days to actually go to a complementary practitioner, but each of us has a different view of what therapy we might want and use," said Mr Fox, who has used seven complementary approaches himself.

"My daughter has asthma and she has used puffer inhalers but tried to help manage her breathing through yoga. Increasingly people want to manage things themselves, not always leaning on something else." He had been "pleasantly reassured" by the interest in complementary medicine from the royal colleges, pillars of the medical establishment, and NHS organisations.

Prince Charles has argued for a new approach "in terms of the conventional/complementary." Michael Dixon, a GP from Cullompton, Devon, and chairman of the NHS Alliance, an umbrella group of individual healthcare workers and NHS organisations in primary care, agreed. "Last year, there was one trial suggesting aromatherapy only worked if the patient thought it worked. The conventional scientists would say therefore it doesn't work but that is the wrong conclusion. The conclusion is a complementary therapy works for those who believe in it."

His surgery offers a range of complementary therapies, including herbal remedies, and traditional Indian techniques of ayurvedic massage and healing. He argues these are safer than conventional treatments, "not addictive and work for quite a few". Also, he suggests, they are often more cost-effective. On Monday, Prince Charles embarks on another stage in his increasingly close relationship with the medical establishment when he is the main speaker at conference on the "healing environment" in which doctors, architects, urban planners and social care experts will discuss how they can combine to improve public health.