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).

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Complementary medicine study hit by credibility row

The Prince of Quacks is still at it......

Complementary medicine study hit by credibility row

Staff and agencies
Thursday October 6, 2005

A report commissioned by the Prince of Wales calling for more complementary therapies to be provided on the NHS has been hit by a row over its credibility.

The study, launched today, found that there was a 30% drop in the number of consultations with GPs, and a saving of 50% on prescription drugs, when patients were treated with complementary and alternative medicines (CAM).

The key findings of the report, which was led by economist Christopher Smallwood, were that people suffering from chronic conditions such as back pain, anxiety, stress and depression, could benefit from CAM therapies.

But the report's credibility was attacked by Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter's Peninsula Medical School.

He asked for his contribution to the report to be withdrawn and told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the draft of the report on the pilot study "wasn't really up to scratch".

"I am, of course, in favour of using complementary medicine but it needs to be backed up by good science and that wasn't good science," he explained.

"It looked to me as though the conclusions were written before the data were put in.

"These people admitted they were not experts in healthcare. They didn't understand anything of complementary medicine and, more importantly, they weren't even interested in learning," he said.

But Mr Smallwood, a former chief economics adviser to Barclays Bank, dismissed criticism of the report, stressing that Prof Ernst had not seen the final version.

"I would take his criticisms more seriously if he had read the report before he made them," he told the Today programme.

Mr Smallwood denied he had manipulated the data to fit certain conclusions, adding: "We have taken absolutely as fair-minded a view as we can of all the therapies."

The report also found that although some therapies offer the possibility of savings in terms of direct health costs, others are as expensive as conventional alternatives. However, they could still improve patients' health in a cost-effective way.

The benefits to the Exchequer and the wider economy could be considerable, the report found.

People with chronic complaints returned to work more quickly, leading to greater tax revenue and higher output. For example, back pain alone accounts for 200 million days lost from work a year, costing £11 billion in lost production.

There is a shortage of treatments such as acupuncture and osteopathy in poor areas, where they could be of particular benefit, the report also found.

Challenged on whether complementary therapies could save the NHS money, Mr Smallwood told the Today programme: "In some particular cases, the treatments would be cheaper.

"But overall we are not saying there would be sweeping savings to the NHS budget. What we are saying, however, is that many of these treatments are cost-effective."

Britons currently spend £130 million a year on complementary treatments such as acupuncture, herbalism and reflexology. It is estimated that this will exceed £200 million over the next four years.

In May, the Prince of Wales said the time was right for a shift in the way people view healthcare, towards a more holistic approach to medicine.

Speaking at a conference of medics on integrated health, he said orthodox and complementary methods should work in tandem, with patients being encouraged to take more responsibility for their own health.

A spokeswoman from Clarence House, on behalf of the Prince of Wales, said today: "Past research indicates that as many as 16 million people in the UK have used complementary treatments so there is a clear need for reliable information on this subject."

CAM therapies include a huge range of treatments, but the nine-month study focused on five - osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine.

The report is calling for the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) to carry out a full clinical assessment of the cost effectiveness of those therapies identified in the report

Mr Smallwood said: "The weight of evidence we have examined suggests that complementary and alternative medicines could play a much larger role in the delivery of health care."

Acupuncture can be best used to treat back pain and post-operative nausea and pain, the report found. The manipulative therapies - osteopathy and chiropractic - were beneficial in relation to back, shoulder and neck pain.

Although homeopathy was reported as improving stress and depression, menstrual problems and pain, the study was inconclusive over its overall effectiveness. Some studies have suggested that homeopathy is no better than a placebo.

Herbal medicines were found to have success in treating arthritis, the common cold, depression, heart and circulatory problems.

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