Angry Doctor

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why can’t you be LESS like your father?

I expect Dr Crippen to be blogging on this topic soon, but in any case it was reported in Today today. I’ve included the link to the Times article and the letter in the text below.

Doctors counter-attack

They want UK govt to stop state funding for alternative therapies

LONDON — In a direct challenge to Prince Charles' vocal campaign for wider access to alternative medicine, a group of Britain's leading doctors has urged trusts under the National Health Service (NHS) to stop paying for alternative medicine and to use the money for conventional treatments.

In a letter, reproduced in London's Times newspaper yesterday, they expressed concern that the NHS was funding "unproven or disproved treatments", like homeopathy, acupuncture and reflexology promoted by the Prince, even as huge NHS deficits were forcing trusts to sack nurses and limit access to life-saving drugs.

The 13 scientists, who include top names in British medicine, have written to the chief executives of all acute and primary care trusts in Britain demanding that only evidence-based therapies are provided free to the public.

While "medical practice must remain open to new discoveries", it would "be highly irresponsible to embrace any medicine as though it were a matter of principle", the doctors said. "The public and the NHS are best served by using the available funds for treatments that are based on solid evidence," the letter added.

Prince Charles yesterday stepped up his crusade for increased funding to alternative treatments with a controversial speech to the World Health Organization assembly in Geneva, asking WHO to embrace alternative therapies in their fight against serious disease.

His views have incensed allopathic doctors, who claim that the therapies the Prince has been recommending have been shown to be ineffective in clinical trials or have never been properly tested.

The Prince's two major initiatives are: A government-funded patient guide that has been prepared by his Foundation for Integrated Medicine and the Smallwood report of last year that he had commissioned to make a case for increasing NHS fund allocations.

According to the letter, both the documents, have given misleading information about scientific support for therapies such as homeopathy. The letter described the alternative method "an implausible treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness".

The letter's signatories include Sir James Black, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988, and Sir Keith Peters, president of the Academy of Medical Science, which represents Britain's leading clinical researchers.

However, 93-year-old Jane Gilchrist, who uses homeopathic therapies, told BBC Radio that she had had "great benefit" from it. "It has been in the NHS since 1948. It's the best kept secret in Britain," she said. It was difficult to collect data because it was hard to prove the effectiveness of a therapy "based on people, not on symptoms", she added.

Complementary therapies also include reflexology, aromatherapy and a range of massage techniques such as reiki and shiatsu.

The scientists who penned the letter sound like a reasonable lot. They do not ask for alternative therapies to be banned altogether, but acknowledge that 'medical practice must remain open to new discoveries for which there is convincing evidence, including any branded as ‘alternative’'.

There is an accompanying article which describes the various types of alternative therapy and whether they have been proven to work. In this article the author suggests that the reason why alternative therapy is popular with patients is because their practitioners have more time to establish rapport with them, something which the overworked 'modern doctors' cannot do.

But instead of allocating more funds to train more doctors so patients will get more time with their doctors, the Prince wants funds diverted from them.

I guess that's the problem when medicine is publicly-funded and politicised - the temptation to choose cheaper, unproven therapy to please the populace over more expensive, proven, but more impersonal therapy is always there.

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  • It is always intrigued me that the Singapore govt seems to openly embrace alternative therapies, almost to the extent of promoting it. Is my impression incorrect? please correct me if so, but please explain too if my assumptions are right.


    By Blogger huajern, At May 24, 2006 6:19 pm  

  • The official position of the ministry can be found here:

    It refers specifically to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but does not mention any other traditional medical systems in detail.

    The government 'regulates' TCM, but whteher this actually translates to promotion or curbing of TCM I have no idea.

    By Blogger angry doc, At May 24, 2006 6:37 pm  

  • In Singapore, TCM is the only alternative therapy ( or I should term it Complementry medicine ) that is regulated by the government.

    Accupuncture is already accepted into the conventional treatment and can now be practiced in Hospitals if I am not wrong.

    In my opinion, the move is largely a political one. Also because of the large population of chinese in Singapore who embrace and uses TCM, i guess it is only natural the government start regulating it and keep a keen eye on this medical system. It's a way to protect the patients as well.

    I do not think regulation on the government part equals to promoting or curbing, but it's a signal from the authority that they recognised this 'alternative' medical system in this country.

    The promotion comes largely from private companies.

    Since the world is moving towards integrative medicine, it will only benefit the patients if we all use the best of East and West to treat the patients and achieve optimal results.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 25, 2006 1:51 pm  

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