A need for more research on complementary and alternative medicine is highlighted in a major report released today in New Zealand.
The report, the culmination of three years work by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Health (MACCAH), forms the committee's final advice to the Minister of Health, Annette King.
Ms King says complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is already widely used. "The 2002-2003 national health survey revealed that one in four people visited an alternative health practitioner the previous year. I am really pleased to receive this report, so I can now consider how best such practitioners can contribute further to New Zealand's health.
"The Committee considers treatments proven to be safe, efficacious and cost effective should be publicly funded, and it also suggests better research infrastructure is needed to maximise benefits available from this area of care."
Ms King says the report also highlights a need for more information on the safety and effectiveness of CAM, such as naturopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine, acupuncture, osteopathy and homeopathy, services that are already widely used. "It is important that alternative treatment users can access unbiased and up-to-date information so they can make sound decisions about their health care."
She sees the Ministry of Health's complementary and alternative medicine website as a vital part of this. The website summarises existing research on the safety of various CAM treatments and how well they work.
Another key Committee recommendation is to regulate practitioners of "high risk" treatments by law, while "lower risk" groups could be self-regulated through professional organisations, Ms King says. The Committee also recommends that all CAM practitioners needed to meet basic levels of training in their discipline, regardless of their training in other forms of medicine.
"I am now giving careful consideration to the Committee's advice and have asked the Ministry to look at how the recommendations may be able to contribute to improving health outcomes," Ms King said. "The National Health Committee is also organising a CAM summit for late this year to allow mainstream and CAM sector representatives to discuss opportunities to work together in the future."